Future soldiers could be protected against germ warfare by genetically modified blood cells

 

Science Editor

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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Interactive / Mobile Developer

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Midweight

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Front End Developer

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Front End Developer - Midweight / Senior

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks