By David Zhang
Blood is a key component of our body, composed of blood cells suspended in blood plasma which carry around oxygen for our body parts. However, this means that if too much is lost, or the blood is affected by a disease, a person’s health can be seriously affected. There are numerous conditions that are caused by issues with blood. The most convenient cure humans have come up with for many of these diseases is to replace the affected blood in the system with new blood, either from another human or artificially created. Sadly, there is almost always a shortage of donated blood, and donated blood is limited by type and storage life, so artificially created blood must be developed for those who need it.
Traditionally, artificial blood had been created by injecting hemoglobin or other oxygen-absorbing materials into a benign substance around the size of a red blood cell. These cells have had certain cons due to their difference with natural blood cells. The shape and inflexibility cause them to clot easily. Additionally, they are unable to last as long, meaning infusions are needed more frequently. The precision needed to create these cells mean that very few synthetic red blood cell designs are not approved. As these are quite major issues, there has been a lot of work towards improving the current designs. Just recently, a new design has been published which improves all these factors, as well as adds extra functionality. Their method uses nanoscale technology in a four-step process to perfectly craft a human red blood cell. This is already impressive enough, but the scientists also devised a method to allow their synthetic red blood cells to carry additional chemicals or molecules, which can be delivered directly into the bloodstream through a blood infusion. The modularity of the design opens up new avenues for cures and a development that will bring a definite improvement to health.
The finished product still needs to be approved by numerous agencies, and the approval process is likely to be a lengthy and arduous journey. It is not clear how long it will be before the accumulation of these developments will drastically increase our well-being and lifespan, but our technology and understanding are slowly and surely helping us reach for a world where people can live their lives in good health.