JAN 20, 2020 6:33 AM PST

Using Modified Red Blood Cells As a Drug Delivery System

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

For a drug to be effective, it has to get to the right place to exert its impact. Physicists have now created a way to alter red blood cells so they will act as drug delivery systems that can spread therapeutics throughout the body or to specific places. This work, which might apply to the treatment of diseases like Alzheimer's or some types of cancer, has been reported in Advanced Biosystems.  

While synthetic drug delivery systems already exist, they are often recognized and rejected by the body, or they can't get where they need to be. This new method uses modified red blood cells that are meant to circulate in the body for weeks, and seek out targets like tumors, diseased organs, or invasive microbes.

"We call these super-human red blood cells. We think that they could work as the perfect stealth drug carriers which can outsmart our immune system," explained Maikel Rheinstädter, a senior advisor on the study and professor in the Department of Physics & Astronomy at McMaster.

In this work, the researchers created a technique for opening red blood cells, altering the outer cell wall and putting drug molecules inside. These modified red blood cells can then be put back into the body. There, they behave like regular red blood cells, but they have an adherent surface that can bind to other stuff like bacteria, for example. The drugs the modified red blood cells contain can then be released when they need to be, in theory.

"We have combined synthetic material with biological material and created a new structure, which has never been done before in this way," said the lead author of the study Sebastian Himbert, a graduate student in the Department of Physics & Astronomy at McMaster. "The entire process is very efficient and can be completed in one day in the lab."

Delivery systems that can zero in on their targets precisely can often work with smaller doses of drugs (which usually have to be distributed to many parts of the body and get diluted out in the process, to be effective). Instead, potent drugs with the potential for strong side effects can be used with accuracy and lower levels.

Sources: AAAS/Eurekalert! via McMaster University, Advanced Biosystems

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