If you’ve seen many old westerns, then you’ll likely have watched a few scenes where one cowboy has to suck rattlesnake venom out of another one’s leg. Things would have been much easier for those cowboys if nanosponges had been around at the time. Developed by scientists at the University of California, San Diego, the tiny sponges mimic red blood cells, and are able to soak up lethal toxins – including snake venom and bacteria – from the bloodstream.
The nanosponges are made up of a biocompatible polymer core, which is coated with segments of the host’s red blood cell membranes. That coating fools the immune system into identifying the sponges as the body’s own blood cells, so it doesn’t attack them. Because each nanosponge is 3,000 times smaller than a red blood cell, the harvested membrane of one cell provides enough material to coat thousands of sponges.