According tomedia New Atlas, the researchers created synthetic red blood cells (RBCs), which have all the useful properties of true red blood cells, and added new functions. These new cells can carry oxygen or drugs, perceive toxins and other tasks in the body. It goes without saying that red blood cells perform an important function— transporting oxygen from the lungs to all the tissues of the body. They do this by using molecules called hemoglobin, which bind to oxygen using iron-containing proteins.
Red blood cells also have a range of safety properties that enable them to function properly. They can be squeezed and stretched to pass through tiny capillaries and can circulate for long periods of time. Scientists have had some trouble imitating all these properties when trying to make synthetic versions of red blood cells. Now, researchers from the University of New Mexico, the Sandia National Laboratory in the United States and South China University of Technology have created synthetic red blood cells that can do all of these functions — and even more.
To create this synthetic cell, the researchers started with real cells. These donated human red blood cells are first covered with a thin layer of silica, followed by a layer of polymer with a positive and negative charge. Silicon dioxide is then etched off and finally coated with a natural RBC film on the surface.
The end result is artificial red blood cells, which are similar in size, shape, charge and surface protein to the real. The team showed that these synthetic red blood cells were able to deform enough to squeeze through tiny gaps in the model capillaries. In the mice, the cells circulated in the mice for more than 48 hours, and the team found no toxic side effects.
In other tests, the team demonstrated a variety of other capabilities that these synthetic red blood cells can perform. They have successfully carried different hemoglobin, anti-cancer drugs, toxin sensors and magnetic nanoparticles. Each of these may represent the different potential uses of these cells — to transport oxygen, to transport drugs, to sense toxins, and to allow external manipulation.
The team plans to continue to study and test the cells in the hope of eventually preparing for human trials.
The study was published in the journal ACS Nano.