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Drug Delivery

Letting nanoparticles hitchhike on red blood cells

Particles adsorbed on cells accumulate in the first organ downstream from injection site

by Celia Henry Arnaud
July 20, 2018 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 96, Issue 30


Red blood cell with hitchhiking nanoparticles adsorbed on its surface.
Credit: Nat. Commun.
Red blood cells carry hitchhiking nanoparticles to target organs. Shown here is a red blood cell with polystyrene nanoparticles.

When nanoparticles are used for drug delivery, they often end up in the liver or spleen instead of the intended target. A team led by Jacob S. Brenner and Vladimir Muzykantov of the University of Pennsylvania now shows that nanocarrier delivery can be improved by the having the nanocarriers “hitchhike” on red blood cells (Nat. Commun. 2018, DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-05079-7). The researchers withdrew red blood cells from mice and incubated them with nanoparticles, which adsorbed on the cell surface. They then injected the cells back into the animals through arterial catheters. When injected this way, the nanocarriers accumulate in the first organ they encounter downstream from the injection site. The researchers think the narrow capillaries cause the nanoparticles to detach from the blood cells and transfer to the cells lining the capillaries. The red blood cells themselves don’t clog the arteries or capillaries. By moving the catheter to different arteries, the researchers can target different organs. Such an approach could be used to deliver drugs for acute conditions such as heart attacks and embolic strokes for which the standard of care already involves the use of arterial catheters, the researchers suggest.


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