Diverting the enemy's firepower with a decoy is a favourite tactic of soldiers. So, when defending our body from toxic substances, the same strategy can work at a microscopic level. One such toxin infiltrates red blood cells (RBCs) – which are responsible for carrying oxygen around the body – causing them to become porous and die. A thin layer of RBC membrane (dark outer layer in image) wrapped around a synthetic core (light inner area) is attacked in much the same way, but without the damaging effects to the body. As shown in mice, these decoy nanosponges can keep the dangerous substance locked up and away from real RBCs until the liver can safely break it down. Nanosponges like these could provide treatment for a wide variety of chemical threats – from certain bacteria to scorpions and snakes – which all use similar toxins to target their prey.
Written by Jan Piotrowski
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.