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Red blood cells redesigned to kill Covid-19

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A Canadian team is using our own cells as nanorobots within the body, and they can attack disease whenever they see it.

Researchers at McMaster University have redesigned red blood cells so that they can carry viral agents that can safely trigger the immune system to protect the body from SARS-CoV-2. This could be a new way to deliver vaccines.

SARS-CoV-2 spike proteins are embedded in red blood cell membranes, forming virus-like particles.

“We take red blood cells and remove everything from the inside. We then attach spike proteins to their outside to mimic a corona virus”, explained Isabella Passos-Gastaldo, lead author.

The particles, which have been shown in mice to activate the immune system and create antibodies, are absolutely safe.

“Current vaccine delivery methods often cause drastic immune system reactions and have short-lived responses,” added Maikel Rheinstadter, Sr. supervisor on the paper. 

“Some of the vaccines that have been developed have shown side effects. This delivery platform opens new possibilities for vaccines and therapeutics,” he added.  

The researchers discovered that cells may be loaded with a huge quantity of viral proteins while causing few adverse effects, making the novel technique more pleasant and effective than existing vaccines.

“We have developed a method where we can trigger an immune response without the use of genetic material and yet we are able to synthesize these particles in a very short amount of time,” added Sebastian Himbert, lead author.

As new viruses or strains emerge in the future, vaccines can be easily developed using this method.

The researchers originally disclosed this technology in 2020, when they manipulated red blood cells to distribute medications throughout the body, which might potentially be used to cure infections or fatal diseases like cancer or Alzheimer’s.

“This platform makes our own blood cells smart in many different ways,” said Rheinstadter.  “In this case it’s a vaccine.  We are using our own cells much like nano robots inside of our bodies and whenever they see a disease, they can fight it.”

Source: 10.1371/journal.pone.0263671

Image Credit: Matthew Clarke/McMaster University

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