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April 30, 2013

“Nanosponges” in the bloodstream could mop up toxins from bacteria, bees, or snakes.



Tiny sponges in the blood. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Handy new sponges can soak up tough spills, like snake venom or bacterial toxins. And they’re small enough to inject into the bloodstream. Nanoengineer Liangfang Zhang of the University of California, San Diego has been developing the so-called nano-sponges. He explains that certain toxins puncture red blood cells. The nanosponges are cloaked in red blood cell membranes, so they act like decoys, and absorb the toxins instead and seal them in. In mouse experiments, Zhang’s team showed that the nanoparticles are safe to use, even as a preventive treatment.

LIANGFANG ZHANG (University of California, San Diego):

If they find something bad, they will clean them up. If nothing happens, they just circulate, and then they go to the liver.

Because they’re made from biologically compatible materials, the liver metabolizes them safely. Zhang’s team is now planning human trials. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.

Left: Cross-section of a nanosponge. Right: Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM) of a nanosponge. (UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering)