Issue Date: April 23, 2012
Red Blood Cells Release Cargo On Demand
To force cargo-loaded red blood cells to dump their contents, scientists decorated the cells with gold nanoparticles and zapped them with a laser (ACS Nano, DOI: 10.1021/nn3006619). Scientists aim to use such cells to deliver drugs to tumors, because red blood cells are naturally compatible with the immune system and circulate in the body for days. Other researchers have found ways to load the cells with drugs, but controlling the molecules’ release has remained challenging. Hans Bäumler of Charité University Hospital and colleagues used gold nanoparticles because they heat up when irradiated with infrared laser light. The researchers expected that the heat would change the structure of lipid or protein molecules in the cells’ membranes, creating short-lived pores through which cargo could escape. To test the idea, they mixed gold nanoparticles with a suspension of red blood cells containing red and green dye molecules. While observing the cells via fluorescence microscopy, they applied a pulse from an infrared laser on individual cells. Within seconds, each cell stopped glowing, a sign that the dye molecules had left the cell.
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