Synthetic blood is moving closer to becoming reality, thanks to new nanotechnology research from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
A team of UNC scientists have created tiny particles that have some of the properties of red blood cells. The university says the medical breakthrough could lead to more effective treatments for cancer and other medical conditions. The research is published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Researchers used a technology known as Particle Replication in Non-wetting Templates, or PRINT, to make small particles that mimic the size, shape and flexibility of red blood cells, which allows the particles to circulate in the body for extended periods of time. Joseph DeSimone, co-lead investigator of the study and a chemistry professor who holds positions at both UNC and North Carolina State University, said in a prepared statement that creating particles that can last longer has been the challenge for developing synthetic blood. Red blood cells naturally deform in order to pass through the microscopic pores in organs and blood vessels. Over a lifespan of 120 days, red blood cells become stiffer and are filtered from circulation. Synthetic blood had been difficult to make because the particles were stiff.
“Although we will have to consider particle deformability along with other parameters when we study the behavior of particles in the human body, we believe this study represents a real game changer for the future of nanomedicine,” DeSimone said.
UNC has yet to test the ability of the particles to transport oxygen or carry therapeutic drugs. The university notes that the particles also do not remain in the cardiovascular system as long as real red blood cells. Beyond forming synthetic blood, the particles can also be used to fight cancer. Particles carrying cancer-fighting drugs that can remain in the body longer could lead to more aggressive cancer treatments.
DeSimone’s PRINT technology is also being used by Research Triangle Park-based Liquidia Technologies, a nanotechnology company co-founded by DeSimone that is developing ways to more effectively deliver vaccines. Liquidia holds an exclusive license to UNC’s PRINT technology. Liquidia has raised about $50 million in venture capital including a $25 million Series C round that closed last spring.