Synthetic red blood cells mimic natural ones, and have new abilities


Scientists have tried to develop synthetic red blood cells that mimic the favorable properties of natural ones, such as flexibility, oxygen transport and long circulation times. Now, researchers have made synthetic red blood cells that have all of the cells’ natural abilities, plus a few new ones.The researchers made the synthetic cells by first coating donated human RBCs with a thin layer of silica. They layered positively and negatively charged polymers over the silica-RBCs, and then etched away the silica, producing flexible replicas. Finally, the team coated the surface of the replicas with natural RBC membranes. The artificial cells were similar in size, shape, charge and surface proteins to natural cells, and they could squeeze through model capillaries without losing their shape. In mice, the synthetic RBCs lasted for more than 48 hours, with no observable toxicity. The researchers loaded the artificial cells with either hemoglobin, an anticancer drug, a toxin sensor or magnetic nanoparticles to demonstrate that they could carry cargoes. The team also showed that the new RBCs could act as decoys for a bacterial toxin. Future studies will explore the potential of the artificial cells in medical applications, such as cancer therapy and toxin biosensing, the researchers say.