Now researchers at the University of North Carolina have synthesized red blood cell-sized and -shaped nanoparticles that mimic this flexibility and longevity. The discovery may lead to the development of better method for delivering drugs, they reported Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science.
"We believe this study represents a real game changer for the future of nanomedicine," told Joseph DiSimone, the study's co-lead investigator, in a news release. Getting particles to continue circulating in the body for extended periods has been a challenge, he said.
Previous studies had focused on how size, shape and surface characteristics of particles affected their movement through the bloodstream, the team wrote, but flexibility's role is less well understood. To test it out, the researchers built artificial cells out of a gel material with "tunable elasticity" -- that is, the team could manage how deformable the cells were.