Hiding in plain sight: Using red blood cell proteins to deliver drugs

Red blood cells are safely protected from attacks from the immune system by a coat of protein--so why not try using that to help deliver drugs? Researchers from Michigan Technological University have done just that.

Macrophages (white blood cells) effectively defend the body against infection by engulfing bacteria and viruses; unfortunately, nanoparticles delivering drugs often also meet the same fate. Red blood cells escape this process because they have a coat of protein called CD47, which has been described as a "don't eat me" message to the macrophages. So the team of researchers decided to see whether a similar coat would protect nanoparticles, allowing them to get to their target and drop their payload of therapeutics.

As well as its cloaking abilities, CD47 also binds to an integrin, a receptor on the tumor cell surface that is involved in maintaining the tumor's blood supply. This means that CD47 could also cut off the nutrient supply to the cell.

This research is still at a very early stage--the team is only just producing the proteins in genetically-modified E. coli bacteria, and the next step is to create CD47-coated nanoparticles and see if they are swept away by immune cells of simply ignored.

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