Future soldiers could counter germs with genetically modified blood cells

Researchers recently discovered that soldiers can be protected against germ warfare agents by receiving blood transfusions with genetically modified cells to neutralize deadly toxins.

A recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science showed that human red blood cells can be used to carry genetically engineered proteins and target specific toxins, the Independent reports.

"Because the modified human red blood cells can circulate in the body for up to four months, one could envision a scenario in which the cells are used to introduce antibodies that neutralize a toxin," Hidde Ploegh, a professor of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and one of the study's senior authors, said, according to the Independent. "The result would be long-lasting reserves of antitoxin antibodies."

Red blood cells account for approximately a quarter of all the cells in the human body, and normally carry oxygen from the lungs to living tissue. Their small size allows them to travel through narrow capillaries.

A recent study found the modified red blood cell technique effective in mice.

"We wanted to create high-value red cells that do more than simply carry oxygen," Harvey Lodish of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research said, the Independent reports. "Here we've laid out the technology to make mouse and human red blood cells in culture that can express what we want and potentially be used for therapeutic or diagnostic purposes."