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The red blood cells are “emptied” and coated with the advanced proteins of the virus you want to defend against.
[Imagem: Sebastian Himbert et al. – 10.1371/journal.pone.0263671]
Physicists, chemists and immunologists have teamed up to modify human red blood cells and turn them into carriers of viral agents.
These agents, in turn, can safely trigger the immune system to protect our bodies against SARS-CoV-2, the covid-19 virus – and many more.
In other words, researchers have created a promising new vehicle for delivering vaccines.
Developing new vaccine strategies and technologies is critical to controlling the pandemic and preparing us for future outbreaks as the coronavirus continues to evolve and mutate, researchers say.
Turning a red blood cell into a fake virus
The new method is a totally unique approach to vaccination: red blood cell membranes received spike proteins from SARS-CoV-2, which turned them into virus-like particles.
“We took the red blood cells and removed everything from the inside. Then we attached spike proteins on the outside to mimic a coronavirus,” explained Isabella Passos-Gastaldo from McMaster University (Canada).
These particles, or fake viruses, are completely harmless, but they still activate the immune system, causing it to produce antibodies against the real virus – the technique has already been tested in mice and it worked.
“Current methods of administering vaccines often provoke drastic reactions from the immune system and have short-lived responses,” said Professor Maikel Rheinstadter. “Some of the vaccines that have been developed have shown side effects. This delivery platform opens up new possibilities for vaccines and therapies.”
Researchers have found that blood cells can be loaded with a large dose of viral proteins, making the new method more effective than other vaccine options.
“We have developed a method in which we can trigger an immune response without using genetic material and yet we are able to synthesize these particles in a very short time,” said researcher Sebastian Himbert, lead author of the work.
Additionally, the technology can be quickly adapted to develop vaccines against variants or new viruses that may emerge in the future.
“This platform makes our own blood cells smart in different ways,” Rheinstadter said. “In this case, it’s a vaccine. We use our own cells as nanobots inside our bodies and whenever they see a disease, they can fight it.”
This, after ensuring that the application of this approach in humans does not cause serious side effects, which will require further studies.
Item: Erythro-VLP: Anchoring of SARS-CoV-2 spike proteins in erythrocyte liposomes
Authors: Sebastian Himbert, Isabella Passos Gastaldo, Rashik Ahmed, Karla Martinez Pomier, Braeden Cowbrough, Dushyant Jahagirdar, Samantha Ros, Janos Juhasz, Harald DH Stver, Joaquin Ortega, Giuseppe Melacini, Dawn ME Bowdish, Maikel C. Rheinstdter
Publication: PLoS ONE