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Scientists have created synthetic blood that kills Cancer and super bugs

WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF

As humans we think we are constrained by our biology, but what if we could program ourselves with new skills and capabilities?

 

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As you’ll know by now I follow all kinds of emerging technologies, in this case including synthetic blood developments, which could solve the transfusion crisis so many hospitals face, and the development of hybrid super human immune systems, which could make humans almost invincible to all disease. To name but two. Now, in a new development scientists have cracked the longstanding problem of how to create a ‘skeleton’ that can hold artificial cells together and keep them from rupturing and created synthetic blood cells that can be loaded up with drugs and targeted to specific areas of the body in a process they liken to “precision weapons.”

 

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It means anti-biotics, cancer and other treatments could be delivered to the site of an infection or tumour in much higher doses that would be too toxic if they were administered to the body as a whole, as they are now.

Chemotherapy could be administered with greater intensity and fewer side effects, including the potential to eliminate hair loss, researchers said, while it may also enable the use of powerful anti-biotics that superbugs aren’t resistant to.

 

The Future of Healthcare and Well Being, by Keynote Speaker Matthew Griffin

 

This is the first time synthetic blood cells have been produced and was only made possible after scientists created tiny skeletons to hold the cells together and prevent them rupturing – an issue which had previously eluded them.

They are not literally blood cells but rather empty cells, the same size as white blood cells, that drugs can be inserted into and can travel through the blood interacting with their surroundings.

 

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“We think this is a very big development and we’re excited by it,”said  Jonathan Burns, of University College London.

“We want to use our approach to deliver anti-biotics locally, like precision weapons, rather than have them spread around the whole body. This means we can use less anti-biotics as a result, plus we can also use other more toxic anti-biotics because we need less of it.”

Initial tests suggest that using these synthetic cells to “turbocharge” drugs will work well. These showed that the skeletons successfully held the cells together in human blood, outside the body, in a lab.

The researchers found that adding synthetic cells loaded with a powerful class of anti-biotic, known as Meropenem – or Merrem – in a dish in the lab killed the E.coli superbug.

 

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The next phase of the project will begin this week as the researchers carry out tests to see if antibiotic-laden artificial cells can kill the E-Coli superbug in rats. They will then look to test the technique on humans.

Superbugs have developed resistance to mainstream anti-biotics because of their overuse in medicine and agriculture.

The World Health Organisation has declared antimicrobial resistance, as it is officially known, as one of the top 10 global public health threats, and this breakthrough could transform the battle against superbugs such as MRSA and E.Coli by enabling anti-biotics to be used that they aren’t resistant to. And administering them in a much more targeted way they won’t wipe out the populations of good bacteria around the body – a significant downside to anti-biotic use at the moment.

 

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Scientists predict the new turbocharged synthetic cells would initially be used to help immune-suppressed people to fight off superbugs but in the longer term they could be used against other diseases and by healthier people as well.

They can be produced quickly and cheaply, although they would be more expensive than current antibiotics, Dr Burns said. They can also be guided with precision by adding miniscule magnetic particles and using a magnet outside the body to move them to the target.

As such, there is considerable potential to improve the effectiveness of a whole range of drugs – from anti-cancer treatments to those for almost every infectious disease – by targeting a small area with a high dose and leaving the rest of the body alone, Dr Burns said.

 

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“We can put almost any drug molecule inside our synthetic white blood cells. Right now we are focused on anti-microbial resistance but we would look to apply this to other conditions in the future, including cancers.

“Cisplatin is normally used in chemotherapy. This is a highly toxic molecule, which is given to the tumour site. But the trouble is it ends up circulating the body as well. And because it’s toxic to the patient they lose their hair, they get really weak and lethargic and often it can be quite a destructive process.

“So if you had a magic wand where you could put it inside a synthetic cell and it went exactly to the site of the tumour and did it’s thing – you’re treating the cells, treating the condition and minimising toxicity.”

 

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If the experiments in rats go well, within five years Dr Burns hopes to begin clinical trials. These would involve injecting synthetic cells containing antibiotics into humans to see if they kill E.Coli.

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