17 December 2009

Artificial red blood cells – containers for medicines and oxygen

A group of specialists from the University of California at Santa Barbara, led by Samir Mitragotri, has developed red blood cells made of polymers that are surprisingly close to real ones. Their twofold "tire-like" appearance is explained by the shape that real red blood cells take in the human body.

Synthetic erythrocytes successfully mimic the characteristics and basic functions of real cells, including softness, flexibility and the ability to carry oxygen. The soft shell of protein makes polymer cells elastic and elastic. Like real red blood cells, they can squeeze through capillaries with a diameter smaller than their own (the scale scale in the picture is 5 microns).

In a press release from the university, scientists report that synthetic red blood cells (SRBCs) perfectly cope with the "transportation" of substances throughout the body, which has been proven experimentally, with the attachment of a hemoglobin molecule to the surface of a polymer cell and subsequent observation.

Such containers can be used to deliver medicines and transfusions to people instead of real blood. – but before that, of course, many more additional tests will be needed.

The specialists managed to make artificial erythrocytes as follows: first, a polymer template similar in shape to a donut was created, which was covered with several layers of hemoglobin and other proteins, then the template itself was removed, the protein shell remained. As a result, all artificial cells have the same size and flexibility and can carry as much oxygen as real ones.

In an article published in PNAS (Nishit Doshi et al., Red blood cell-mimicking synthetic biomaterial particles), the authors suggest that their technique can also be used to develop particles that mimic the shape and properties of diseased cells, for example in sickle cell anemia. And their study will help to understand how such diseases affect blood cells.

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