JUN 07, 2020 5:16 AM PDT

A Synthetic Red Blood Cell That's Better Than the Real Thing

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Red blood cells are the most abundant type of cell in the blood. They contain a protein called hemoglobin, which carries oxygen and gives the cells their red pigment. Researchers have been trying to create synthetic red blood cells, but that's been an elusive goal until now. The artificial red blood cells that scientists have previously developed have had some of the properties of red blood cells, like oxygen transport, flexibility, or the ability to circulate for long periods, but none have yet had all of the necessary qualities that a cell would need to faithfully replicate a red blood cell.

Image credit: Pixabay

Reporting in ACS Nano, scientists have now engineered synthetic red blood cells that have all of the important features of the natural ones, and they have some new abilities too. Red blood cells have to be flexible enough to move through tiny capillaries and then regain their shape in larger vessels. They have to be able to move through the blood without being destroyed by immune cells, and they have to contain enough hemoglobin to transport the oxygen the body needs. The scientists also wanted them to be useful in therapeutic delivery and detecting toxins.

A team of researchers led by Wei Zhu of the South China University of Technology and C. Jeffrey Brinker of the University of New Mexico began by covering human red blood cells with a thin layer of silica. Next, polymers with positive and negative charges were layered over the silica-coated red blood cells. The silica was etched away to create the replicas, and natural red blood cell membranes were finally layered over the replicas.

The resulting synthetic cells were very similar to the real thing, having the same shape, charge, and proteins on their surface as natural cells. They were able to retain their shape after squeezing through artificial capillary models. When injected into a mouse model, no toxic effects were observed while the synthetic blood cells remained in circulation - for more than two days.

The scientists were also able to load these artificial cells with drugs, a sensor that could detect toxins, or magnetic nanoparticles, showing that they may one day be useful as a delivery system for different things. The researchers plan to continue to explore the potential applications of these synthetic cells.

Learn more about other efforts to create synthetic red blood cells from the video.

Sources: Science Daily via American Chemical Society, ACS Nano

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
JUN 04, 2021
Drug Discovery & Development
Stem Cell Transplants May Treat Patients with Type 2 Diabetes
JUN 04, 2021
Stem Cell Transplants May Treat Patients with Type 2 Diabetes
Researchers at the Vinmec Research Institute of Stem Cell and Gene Technology in Hanoi, Vietnam have found that stem cel ...
JUN 14, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
Can An Omega-3 Fatty Acid Destroy Tumors?
JUN 14, 2021
Can An Omega-3 Fatty Acid Destroy Tumors?
The body needs fatty acts for a variety of functions, and the health benefits of taking fatty acid supplements have long ...
JUN 17, 2021
Microbiology
Malaria Pathogen Caught Invading Red Blood Cells
JUN 17, 2021
Malaria Pathogen Caught Invading Red Blood Cells
Mosquitoes are the world's deadliest animals (after humans) and they transmit malaria, which kills about 400,000 people ...
JUN 30, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
A New Kind of Regulatory Element in the Genome
JUN 30, 2021
A New Kind of Regulatory Element in the Genome
The common, two-stranded helical structure of DNA was discovered over one hundred years ago. Many researchers would go o ...
JUL 06, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
Can Some Brain Plasticity Be Restored with Ketamine or Light?
JUL 06, 2021
Can Some Brain Plasticity Be Restored with Ketamine or Light?
The perineuronal net is known to play a crucial role in memory. This structure surrounds certain neurons, encasing their ...
JUL 17, 2021
Microbiology
Fungi Can be a Healthy or Destructive Part of the Gut Microbiome
JUL 17, 2021
Fungi Can be a Healthy or Destructive Part of the Gut Microbiome
Scientists have been revealing the importance of gut bacteria; the huge numbers of bacterial species in our gastrointest ...
Loading Comments...