Advancing towards the therapeutic nano red blood cell

Date: 17th January 2019

The aim of a biomorphic engineer is to design structures that work and operate in harmony with the natural world and a biomorphic design is one that is suggestive of the shape of a living, natural organism.   New nanomedical technologies aim to mimic the structural complexity of biological systems (shape, size, surface chemistry), and are becoming an increasingly popular area for therapeutic use.

Red blood cells (RBCs) possess unique morphological features that encapsulate haemoglobin and their discoid shape, flexibility and non-immunogenic surface facilitates their movement through the cardiovascular system.  Now scientists from the Netherlands have developed a biomorphic therapeutic nanosystem to mimic RBCs, capable of functioning in vivo.  In this system, genetically-modified artificial vesicles (polymersomes) were subject to hypotonic shock to produce nanoscopic, biodegradable polymersomes, called stomatocytes which possessed an RBC‐like, oblate morphology, and which were able to circulate effectively in mouse models whilst carrying a cargo of oxygen-binding haemaglobin and photosensitiser. Interestingly, the group also demonstrated the capacity of these nano‐RBCs to transport oxygen and create oxygen radicals upon exposure to light in 2D and 3D tumour models and so indicated potential in addressing the challenge presented by cancer‐induced hypoxia. The morphological and functional control demonstrated by this synthetic nanosystem raises interesting possibilities as a promising platform for future clinical therapeutic applications.

Shao, J., I. A. B. Pijpers, S. Cao, D. S. Williams, X. Yan, J. Li, L. K. E. A. Abdelmohsen and J. C. M. van Hest (2019). “Biomorphic Engineering of Multifunctional Polylactide Stomatocytes toward Therapeutic Nano-Red Blood Cells.” Advanced Science 6(5): 1801678.