Bacterial infection can be deadly to red blood cells, burrowing deep into their membranes, leaking haemoglobin out in all directions and leaving the cells shrivelled and diseased. But ruthless as toxic bacteria are, some can also be fooled. The manmade ‘nanosponge’ illustrated on the left may not look much like a red blood cell, yet it’s designed to lure pore-forming toxins (PFTs) away. A membrane from a real red blood cell (orange) is stretched over a framework of nanoparticles (green), providing an irresistible target for prickly PFTs (blue), one million times smaller than the head of a voodoo doll. Nanosponges have recently been injected into the bloodstream of a diseased mouse, successfully soaking up the attack of α-toxin. There’s every hope that these tiny decoys, also shown in a microscope image covered in rings of black PFT spots (right), could one day do a similar job protecting human cells.
Written by John Ankers