The team from the University of California modified spherical poly lactic-co-glycolic acid (PLGA) particles using an alcohol treatment until they formed the classic “dimpled” RBC shape.
This was then used as a mould on which multiple layers of cross-linked proteins were built up creating, when the PLGA core was dissolved, a flexible shell capable of passing through tubes the size of blood capillaries.
Lead researcher Samir Mitragotri said that while current strategies focused on creating nano-carriers have advanced drug delivery, the carriers themselves “[lack] the sophistication exhibited by innate biological entities.”
Prof Mitragotri explained that, in contrast, RBCs are “highly specialized entities with unique shape, size, mechanical flexibility, and material composition, all of which are optimized for extraordinary biological performance.”
The work is detailed in a paper entitled “Red blood cell-mimicking synthetic biomaterial particles,” which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) earlier this week.
And, although work on use of the artificial RBCs for drug delivery is at a relatively early stage, the team has already used them to transmit iron-oxide nanoparticles, according to a report in an article in the MIT Technology Review.
Prof Mitragotri and his team are now looking at how the artificial RBCs perform in animal models to fully assess their potential in drug delivery.
Last year a Frost & Sullivan report predicted that the nanotech drug delivery market will generate $700-$800bn by 2015, which makes it likely that the development of innovative technologies by academic groups will attract more and more drug industry attention over the next few years.