Scientists from University of California, Santa Barbara and University of Michigan, Ann Arbor have developed polymer microcapsules that attempt to mimic some of the functionality of red blood cells. Unlike other particles designed to ferry therapeutic chemicals into the body, the capsules profiled in the latest Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences have the size and squished shape of red blood cells, and can potentially “possess the ability to carry oxygen and flow through capillaries smaller than their own diameter.”
Technology Review reports:
To create the synthetic cells, Mitragotri, along with researchers at the University of Michigan, start with spherical particles made of a common polymer called poly(lactic-co-glycolic acid (PLGA), a compound known for its biocompatible and biodegradable properties. They expose the spheres to rubbing alcohol, which causes them to deflate and collapse into the dimpled shape of a red blood cell. The hard PLGA particle acts as a mold, around which the researchers can deposit layer after layer of proteins. They crosslink the proteins to get them to hold to the PLGA, then dissolve the rigid inner structure. The result is a soft, flexible protein shell the size and shape of a red blood cell. The researchers can also vary the protein coatings depending, for example adding hemoglobin, which could carry oxygen.
Read on at Technology Review…
Abstract in PNAS: Red blood cell-mimicking synthetic biomaterial particles
Image: Wellcome Images: Red blood cells