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Synthetic red blood cells

Date: 08 June 2020 Tags: Biotechnology

Issue

An international team of bioengineers has developed artificial red cells by combining biological material with lab-grown polymers.

 

Background

 One of the few cells that lack a nucleus, the red cell has a relative simplicity that makes it an attractive target for engineers to build upon.

 

Details

  • This microscopic body can squeeze through the vascular system with its usual hemoglobin and it can be modified to deliver tumour-killing medications, carry biosensors, and even be studded with tiny magnets for the ultimate in remote guidance.

  • Our dependence on huge amounts of clean, freshly donated products to replace blood lost through trauma puts a high demand on finding a suitable substitute.

  • There are several synthetic RBCs already in development. Many rely on scavenging key materials such as hemoglobin from human or animal donors and repackaging them into benign particles that are unlikely to trigger an immune response.

  • The artificial body had to be an appropriate size, shape, and flexibility to make it through the body's narrowest vessels; remain intact long enough to be useful; and still carry a suitable amount of oxygen.

  • The team figured they'd make their tiny units modular, allowing them to swap in and out various features that helped the cells carry drugs or hone in on a destination.

  • To achieve their goal, they started by coating donated blood cells in a layer of silica, which was then painted with polymers of different charges.

  • Once the silica and cell guts were scraped away, the remaining polymer membrane could itself be covered in a skin made from red blood cells.

  • The result is an empty biconcave shell that can be packed with whatever biochemical machinery that is required.

  • A battery of tests using lab equipment and animals showed the bionic blood cells lived up to expectations. There's still a long way to go before any therapies based on artificial blood cells are used.

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