Therapeutic and diagnostic applications of nanomedicine are playing increasingly important roles in human health. Various types of synthetic nanoparticles, including liposomes, micelles, and other nanotherapeutic platforms and conjugates, are being engineered to encapsulate or carry drugs for treating diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disorders, neurodegeneration, and inflammations. Nanocarriers are designed to increase the half-life of drugs, decrease their toxicity and, ideally, target pathological sites. Developing smart carriers with the capacity to deliver drugs specifically to the microenvironment of diseased cells with minimum systemic toxicity is the goal. Blood cells, and potentially also the liposome-like micro- and nano-vesicles they generate, may be regarded as ideally suited to perform such specific targeting with minimum immunogenic risks. Blood cell membranes are "decorated" with complex physiological receptors capable of targeting and communicating with other cells and tissues and delivering their content to the surrounding pathological microenvironment. Blood cells, such as erythrocytes, have been developed as permeable carriers to release drugs to diseased tissues or act as biofactory allowing enzymatic degradation of a pathological substrate. Interestingly, attempts are also being made to improve the targeting capacity of synthetic nanoparticles by "decorating" their surface with blood cell membrane receptor-like biochemical structures. Research is needed to further explore the benefits that blood cell-derived microvesicles, as a Trojan horse delivery systems, can bring to the arsenal of therapeutic micro- and nanotechnologies. This short review focuses on the therapeutic roles that red blood cells and platelets can play as smart drug-delivery systems, and highlights the benefits that blood transfusion expertise can bring to this exciting and novel biomedical engineering field.
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