The Early Development of Synthetic Cells

Artificial cells will be useful tools in the medicine of tomorrow: "Daniel Hammer, professor of chemical engineering and biological engineering at the University of Pennsylvania, is building white blood cells in the lab from plastics that can act as artificial cell walls. Think of a gel capsule of your preferred headache medicine but on a much smaller scale and with a programmable molecular brain. These synthetic cells, known as leuko-polymersomes, could one day deliver the latest cancer-killing drugs directly to a tumor or send out a chemical beacon that signals natural white blood cells to come and join the fight against a disease. ... Ultimately I think that we could program these cells to do things that we never thought white blood cells could do ... Instead of boosting immune response, for example, Hammer envisions synthetic cells that could act as inhibitors to the body's defenses, providing relief for people suffering from autoimmune disorders. Hammer has been studying how to turn plastics into cellular structures for more than a decade, but it's just in the past few years that the field has kicked into high gear. His team is learning to mimic the targeting capabilities that let natural white blood cells take the fight to viruses and bacteria - what Hammer describes as a kind of 'molecular zip coding' - and the adhesive properties that let them stand their ground when they arrive. In 2010, Hammer and colleagues from Duke University designed synthetic molecules shaped like the receptors white blood cells use to find and adhere to inflamed tissue. In-vitro tests showed that synthetic cells could seek out inflamed tissue and stick to it once they arrived."


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