A wide variety of pathogens that harm or kill are known as “pore-forming” toxins. These pore-forming toxins destroy cells by perforating the cell membranes, disrupting their internal chemical balance and causing them to burst. Pore-forming toxins compose about one-quarter of all known protein toxins and increase the infectivity and severity of bacterial diseases, and include E. coli, MSRA, anthrax and snake venom.
Scientists at the University of California – San Diego have developed what they are terming a “nanosponge” which neutralizes these toxins and renders them ineffective. Using a technique developed by one of the research team several years earlier, the scientists are able to wrap nano-sized spheres of a lactic acid byproduct with the membrane of a red blood cell. The membrane from a single red blood cell can be used to wrap, literally, thousands of the nanosponges (which are 3000x smaller than a red blood cell). The process appears to be repeatable and scalable, so that not much blood is required to develop these nanosponges. By encasing the lactic acid byproduct in the membrane of a red blood cell, the nanosponge can travel freely in the bloodstream without being viewed as a foreign body (and thus remaining free from the body’s immuno-response processes). These tiny nanosponges then circulate freely through the body and attract 10s to 100s of the pore-forming toxins each and render them ineffective by trapping them onto the nanosponge, where they continue to circulate in the bloodstream until they are metabolized in the liver with no ill effects. Because of their small size, thousands can be circulated in the blood stream, outnumbering the number of red blood cells and intercepting the toxins.
In lab tests, 18 mice were injected with a lethal dose of MSRA. Nine were subsequently injected with the nanosponges. All the non-inoculated mice died, whereas only 1 mouse that received the nanosponge injection died.
If this method proves successful in human trial, science will be able to treat a wide variety of toxins from MSRA to bee venom.