Researchers re-engineer red blood cells to trigger

New treatments and red blood vaccine technologies are critical for controlling the pandemic and preparing for future outbreaks as the coronavirus continues to evolve and mutate.

Physicists, chemists and immunologists at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada have teamed up in an experimental study to modify red blood cells to transport viral agents which can safely trigger the immune system to protect the body against SARS-CoV-2, creating a promising new transporting system for vaccine delivery.This new method, used in the peer-reviewed study, is a unique approach to vaccination. Red blood cell membranes are embedded with SARS-CoV-2 spike proteins, which then form virus-like particles, which have been shown to activate the immune system and produce antibodies in mice.

The vaccine delivery methods currently in use might cause severe immune system reactions and have short-lived responses, says Maikel Rheinstadter a professor in the Department of Physics & Astronomy at McMaster.The experimental study has found that cells can be loaded with a large dose of viral proteins, yet likely produce few side effects, making the new method more tolerable and effective than other vaccine options.The method in essence triggers an immune response without the use of genetic material. This technology can be adapted to vaccines for variants or new viruses that might emerge in the future.

The technique was first reported when Rheinstadter and students modified red blood cells to deliver drugs throughout the body, which could then target infections or treat catastrophic diseases such as cancer or Alzheimer’s.“This platform makes our own blood cells smart in many different ways,” explains Rheinstadter. “In this case, it’s a vaccine. We are using our own cells much like nanorobots inside of our bodies and whenever they see a disease, they can fight it.”