Artificial blood cells breakthrough

Scientists have created jelly-like synthetic particles which mimic some key properties of RBCs.

Last Updated: Jan 11, 2011, 21:18 PM IST

Washington: In a possible breakthrough in
developing artificial blood, scientists have created
jelly-like synthetic particles which they claim mimic some of
the key properties of red blood cells.

Jelly-like synthetic particles which mimic tiny cells in size and shape may be the first step towards developing truly artificial blood, scientists believe.

The "hydrogel" nanoparticles measuring just six micrometres (0.006 millimetres) across could also be used to fight cancer. They have the important property of being highly flexible, just like real red blood cells, and this means they remain longer in the circulation before being filtered out, and can slip through narrow capillaries or microscopic pores in organs.

Scientists are yet to test the particles` ability to perform functions such as transporting oxygen or carrying anti-cancer drugs. But early experiments indicate they have exciting medical potential. One possible application is unlimited supplies of man-made blood.

To date the most promising research on so-called synthetic blood has seen red blood cells created from stem cells.

A US company has developed a "pharming" process to produce blood cells from stem cells taken from umbilical cords which it hopes can be used in the field. Scientists have also succeeded in creating red blood cells from spare IVF embryos, but attempts to mimic nature with an artificial way of carrying oxygen around the body have not proved successful.

Lack of flexibility has been the major stumbling block. Real blood cells gradually become stiffer during their life and are eventually filtered out of the circulation when they can no longer bend enough to pass through pores in the spleen.

Professor Joseph DeSimone, one of the study investigators from the University of North Carolina, said: "Creating particles for extended circulation in the blood stream has been a significant challenge in the development of drug delivery systems from the beginning.

"Although we will have to consider particle deformability along with other parameters when we study the behaviour of particles in the human body, we believe this study represents a real game changer for the future of nanomedicine."

The research has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Commenting on the study, US professor Chad Mirkin, from Northwestern University in Chicago and one of US President Barack Obama`s science advisers, said: "These findings are significant since the ability to reproducibly synthesise micron-scale particles with tuneable deformability that can move through the body unrestricted as do red blood cells, opens the door to a new frontier in treating disease."

Bureau Report