There is always a blood shortage. But maybe it could be solved with bio-mimetic blood cells that look like red blood cells, are capable of the same functions and even more!
There is one thing you can say about red blood cells that will be always true. We need them to live. Their purpose is to transfer oxygen all over the body and provide it to every single cell in the human body. And to do that the red blood cells have a special protein – hemoglobin – which includes iron atoms needed to bond the oxygen.
But red blood cells also have a few other tricks in their sleeves. For example, they can compress and increase in size so they get wherever they need to be. And they last for a long time in the blood even though they do not include a nucleus.
People suffer from many kinds of illnesses and often injure themselves. Thus, it would be very nice to have a large amount of blood for transfusions all the time. Currently, we require donors but that brings its own problems. Firstly, donors aren't always there. And even if they are, their blood type doesn't always match the patient's blood type. So, scientists have been for a long time trying to create synthetic blood. Including red blood cells. But this has proven to be harder than expected.
Jeffrey Brinker from the University of New Mexico in the USA and his coworkers recently created artificial bio-mimetic red blood cells that are capable of performing the job or natural red blood cells. And more! First, the got red blood cells from a donor and then they coated them with a thin layer of silicon dioxide. Then they added more layers of polymers with both positive and negative charges. After that, they removed the silicon dioxide layer and coated the surface of the synthetic red blood cells with the natural cellular membrane of red blood cells.
This resulted in synthetic red blood cells with a very similar shape, size, electric charge, and surface proteins as the natural red blood cells have. Brinker and his colleagues experimentally confirmed that the synthetic red blood cells are capable of changing their shape to fit through the tight spaces of capillaries. They also tested them in laboratory mice. The synthetic red blood cells were in the mice's blood for more than 48 hours without any signs of toxicity or unwanted side-effects.
In other tests, they also confirmed that their new artificial red blood cells are capable of transporting different cargo than just oxygen. Things like anti-cancer drugs, magnetic nanoparticles, or sensors. Each of the different types of cargo could be used to save lives. The bio-mimetic red blood cells now need to go through more tests but one day you could find yourself with them in your blood.
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