The artificial red blood cells created by American scientists have properties similar to our body’s natural cells, but with some additional functions.
Researchers at the University of New Mexico, in the United States, created synthetic red blood cells that have all the natural abilities of real cells and still fulfill some additional functions. The results were shared in an article published in the May issue of ACS Nano.
Red blood cells are responsible for absorbing oxygen from the lungs and transporting it to other tissues. This process occurs thanks to a type of protein that exists in these cells known as hemoglobin, a molecule that contains iron and is able to bind to circulating oxygen.
Red blood cells are disk-shaped and highly flexible, which helps them squeeze through the small capillaries in our body. In addition, these cells have a type of protein on their surface that gives them protection against cells produced by our immune system, allowing them to circulate for long periods through blood vessels.
With these characteristics in mind, researchers at the University of New Mexico wanted to create artificial red blood cells that had properties similar to natural ones, but that could also perform new functions, such as transporting therapeutic drugs and detecting toxins.
Thus, the researchers covered a portion of donated red blood cells with a thin layer of silica and placed positively and negatively charged polymers on them. This process allowed the group to produce flexible copies of the red blood cells, which were then coated with natural membranes taken from other cells.
According to the scientists, the artificial cells that were obtained are similar to the natural ones in terms of size, shape and surface proteins – they can also squeeze through the capillaries. In addition, when inserted into rats, the synthetic red blood cells lasted more than 48 hours, with no observable toxicity.
The team also “loaded” some red blood cells with other substances, such as an anti-cancer drug and a sensor for toxins or magnetic nanoparticles – and the initial results were encouraging. As they explained in a statement to the press, “future studies will explore the potential of the artificial cells in medical applications, such as cancer therapy and toxin biosensing”.