Future soldiers could be protected against germ warfare by genetically modified blood cells
Steve Connor is the Science Editor of The Independent. He has won many awards for his journalism, including five-times winner of the prestigious British science writers’ award; the David Perlman Award of the American Geophysical Union; twice commended as specialist journalist of the year in the UK Press Awards; UK health journalist of the year and a special merit award of the European School of Oncology for his investigative journalism. He has a degree in zoology from the University of Oxford and has a special interest in genetics and medical science, human evolution and origins, climate change and the environment.
Monday 30 June 2014
Soldiers on future battlefields could be protected against germ warfare agents by having blood transfusions with genetically modified cells that can neutralise deadly biological toxins, scientists have found.
Human red blood cells have been genetically engineered to produce protein antidotes and other antibody-based medicines that can be safely delivered to any part of the body, researchers said.
A study has shown that the technique works well when carried out on laboratory mice, and that modified human red blood cells stay circulating in the body for up to four months, giving transfusion patients long-term protection, they said.
Red blood cells normally carry oxygen from the lungs to the living tissues and are the most numerous of all the cells, accounting for about a quarter of the 100 trillion cells of the human body. They are deliberately small and flexible to allow them to flow through narrow capillaries.
They also lack their own chromosomes because the red cell nucleus is lost during development, making any genetic modification inherently safer as they cannot replicate to produce a cancerous tumour and are naturally removed from the bloodstream after four months.
“We wanted to create high-value red cells that do more than simply carry oxygen. Here we’ve laid out the technology to make mouse and human red blood cells in culture that can express what we want and potentially be used for therapeutic or diagnostic purposes,” said Harvey Lodish of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Massachusetts.
A study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that it is possible to use human red blood cells as microscopic vehicles for carrying a cargo of genetically engineered proteins in the cell’s outer membrane that can be targeted against specific toxins.
The research was supported by the US Defence Research Projects Agency (Darpa), the scientific funding arm of the US military, which is interested in developing the technology for future treatments or vaccines against biological weapons, the researchers said.
“Because the modified human red blood cells can circulate in the body for up to four months, one could envision a scenario in which the cells are used to introduce antibodies that neutralise a toxin. The result would be long-lasting reserves of antitoxin antibodies,” said Hidde Ploegh, professor of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the study’s senior authors.
The researchers made the genetic modifications to the precursor cells that develop into fully mature red blood cells. The technique could also be used to produce modified red cells engineered to remove bad cholesterol from the blood stream, to carry clot-busting proteins to treat strokes or deep-vein thrombosis or to deliver anti-inflammatory antibodies to alleviate chronic inflammation, the researchers said.
“Moreover, the established safety of blood transfusions inspires confidence that these engineered red blood cells indeed will find use in humans,” they said.
Harry Potter actor suffered 'severe flu-like symptoms' on a flight from London to Orlando
First full-length look is finally here
World cities ranked in terms of safety, food security and 'liveability'
- 2 The awkward moment Sarah Palin raised $25,000 for Hillary Clinton's election campaign
- 3 Ball pool for adults opens in London
- 4 Amal Clooney gives excellent response to fashion question at European Court of Human Rights
- 5 Baldness could soon be treated using stem cells, scientists hope
Woman falls to her death as she celebrates marriage proposal at the edge of Ibiza cliff
Sex abuse inquiry: 'Victims receive death threats' after MPs release names online
Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
Teenager brandishing fake gun taken down by police after demanding airtime on Netherlands' NOS TV station
The awkward moment Sarah Palin raised $25,000 for Hillary Clinton's election campaign
9 reasons Greece's experiment with the radical left is doomed to failure
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
Have we reached 'peak food'? Shortages loom as global production rates slow
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Liberal Democrat minister defends comments suggesting immigration causes pub closures
£26000 - £31000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Content Manager is re...
£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...
£14000 - £17500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The successful applicant will b...
£41500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is going through a period o...