In a 2014 issue of Blood Journal,scientists from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) in Boston announced that they have developed a method of artificially manufacturing functional human platelets in vitro.

Why is this announcement of such potentially high importance? Because this announcement suggests that this device could solve the problem of blood transfusion supply shortages, which affect millions of individuals around the world each year. In fact, it is estimated that more than 7,000,000 units of platelets are transfused each year in the United States alone.

According to Blood Journal, the Platelet Bioreactor, which was developed by Platelet BioGenesis, functions by mimicking microenvironments of both bone marrow and blood vessels to trigger platelet production on a dual-chambered biochip. Past attempts at artificially generated platelets were created in Petri dishes, which was a much slower process. The new device increases platelet production by 90 percent. It takes just two hours to produce platelets with the bioreactor, compared to 18 hours with a Petri dish. Platelet transfusions are a necessary component of treatment for patients with such diseases as: AIDS, anemia, cancer, bone marrow transplants, organ transplant surgeries, major traumas and sepsis.

Platelets are the component of blood that is instrumental in the clotting process, which thereby prevents bleeding.However, the flip side to the coin is that there is also high risk involved with platelet transfusions for recipients. Bacterial contamination of platelets is the leading cause of transfusion-transmitted infectious risk and the second most common cause of transfusion-related deaths in the United States. Roughly 1 in 1,000 platelet units are contaminated with bacteria. There are tests to confirm safety of platelets, however, many hospitals avoid more in-depth testing due to the costs and perceived minimal risk.

According to the lead study author, Jonathan Thon, PhD, Division of Hematology, BWH Department of Medicine, The ability to generate an alternative source of functional human platelets with virtually no disease transmission represents a paradigm shift in how we collect platelets that may allow us meet the growing need for blood transfusions. This product also has the potential capability to extend the shelf life of platelets which is critical as often times there is an overabundance of platelet shortages. The ability to easily generate platelets has potential to completely eliminate critical shortages and ensure that no patient will die while waiting for a transfusion. This research suggests that science will have a better understanding of bone marrow modeling and the physiological triggers in which to support drug development and scale platelet production. Researchers expect to commence phase 0/1 in human clinical trials in 2017. Critical criteria needing to be met within this study is to show platelet quality, function and safety over these next three years.

References: 1. Michelson et al.