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In 2007, two papers announced exciting news: extracellular vesicles (EVs) hold RNA and not just garbage from the cell as had been thought. In this podcast, Dr. Ter-Ovanesyan talks about:

  • The importance of locating RNA outside of cellular borders.
  • The interesting challenges EVs present to synthetic biology research and extracellular vesicles research such as disagreements over isolating procedures.
  • The substantial solutions for illnesses Dr. Ter-Ovanesyan believes exosomes (another term for EVs) could offer, such as understanding and preventing dementia.

Dr. Dmitry Ter-Ovanesyan is a post-doc at Harvard with the Wyss Institute in extracellular vesicles research. As an undergraduate student, he was captivated when the RNA discovery was published by what he thought these exosomes might mean and what they might be capable of in the medical world. 

EVs have been known to exist for 40 years, but these 2007 studies revealed that they contain RNA through electron microscopy. A significant finding due to extracellular RNA existence, the scientific community paid attention.

Dr. Ter-Ovanesyan discusses why RNA traveling between cells is so important. He also explains the various roadblocks researchers face in using these exosomes: it is very difficult to both effectively isolate and distinguish them because unlike a virus, there’s no distinguishing protein they present.

However, they hold tremendous promise for the medical field, such as possibly supplying RNA-level clues about the heart or brain without invasive procedures. They also might offer RNA drug potential through synthetic biology research. 

For more information, see his contact information on the Wyss Institute page ( and Harvard’s Church Lab page ( His publications are listed on PubMed as well.

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