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.
Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who made the discovery believe this could also lead to more effective treatments for life threatening medical conditions such as cancer.
Detailing their study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team reported that they used a technology known as PRINT (Particle Replication in Non-wetting Templates) to produce very soft hydrogel particles that mimic the size, shape and flexibility of red blood cells, allowing the particles to circulate in the body for extended periods of time.
The 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.
Over their 120-day lifespan, real cells gradually become stiffer and eventually are filtered out of circulation when they can no longer deform enough to pass through pores in the spleen.
To date, attempts to create effective red blood cell mimics have been limited because the particles tend to be quickly filtered out of circulation due to their inflexibility.
Beyond moving closer to producing fully synthetic blood, the findings could affect approaches to treating cancer. Cancer cells are softer than healthy cells, enabling them to lodge in different places in the body, leading to the disease's spread.
Particles loaded with cancer-fighting medicines that can remain in circulation longer may open the door to more aggressive treatment approaches, the researchers 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," said Joseph DeSimone, co-author of the study.
"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."
Commenting on the study, Professor Chad Mirkin, from Northwestern University in Chicago and one of US President Barack Obama's science advisers, said the ability to mimic the natural processes of a body for medicinal purposes has been a long-standing but evasive goal for researchers.
"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."