Newly created synthetic particles that mimic red blood cells may one day carry drug molecules and/or oxygen through bloodstreams, scientists write in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
A team of California researchers discovered that they could create blood cells by layering hemoglobin and other proteins on top of a microscopic, donut-shaped polymer mold. When the proteins had a stable structure, the polymer mold was removed, leaving a classic blood-cell shaped hollow vessel. The cells are biodegradable, so you wouldn't have to worry on having synthetic-cells roaming your body forever.
One synthetic-cell could carry oxygen through the blood just like a typical red blood cell, its unique shape allowing it to squeeze through tiny capillaries. But it could also carry drugs like anti-coagulant heparin, releasing it gradually. This could help doctors trying to administer drugs to highly-targeted areas fed by the circulatory system.
Perhaps the synthetic-cells could also be used as information carriers: a perfect system for hiding data or other sensitive substances in your bloodstream. One injection of synthetic-cells and you're carrying secret plans around in your blood that can't be detected by anyone. James Bond – quite literally – eat your heart out.
Still years of continued testing lie between prototype and clinical application. Several questions, including how long the particles will remain in circulation, how the immune system will react to the synthetic blood cells, and how efficiently they transport oxygen, remain to be answered.