Scientists may be able to mass produce platelets

29th Apr 2016
Scientists may be able to mass produce platelets

3D Rendering of Platelets little pieces of blood cells, they help wounds heal and prevent bleeding by forming blood clot (Source:blausen.com/creative commons)

A significant step towards mass producing platelets in the laboratory has been reported by a team of scientists from the NHS and University of Cambridge.

Platelets are responsible for the clotting process in blood and are used in transfusions to stop heavy bleeding in operations and after major accidents. Currently platelets are separated out of blood from blood donors and used in surgery and different medical treatments. Being able to mass produce platelets would be a significant step forward and would mean supplies are no longer reliant on blood donations.

Blood is made up of different components: plasma, red and white blood cells and platelets. After blood has been donated it is split into its different components and patients are given the part they need depending on their requirements. As platelets are involved in the blood’s clotting process they are needed during many different procedures such as surgery, trauma, car accidents, leukaemia therapy and in some blood disorders like haemophilia. Platelet transfusions are also often needed to supplement cancer treatment because the chemotherapy can damage bone marrow, thereby reducing platelets and increasing the risk of bleeding.

Platelets are produced in the bone marrow by precursor cells called megakaryocytes. The researchers describe their new method of creating megakaryocytes from stem cells in a paper published in Nature Communications. The research team reported that they found a way to create platelet-producing cells from stem cells faster and more efficiently than before. This is only the first step in the process and the researchers need to make the process more efficient before they can start testing the platelets in clinical trials, but the fact they have been able to produce the platelets in a laboratory setting is a major step forward.

The lab-made cells produce around 10 platelets each, however each one functioning normally in the bone marrow would produce up to 2,000 platelets. So the research team’s aim now is to try and recreate the same conditions as in the bone marrow to make the cells produce more platelets. Being able to produce large numbers of platelets from megakaryocytes for transfusion has been a long-standing challenge because of the huge numbers needed to make a single unit for transfusion.

It may be several years till mass production of platelets is a viable alternative, but this is a significant step forward and it is hoped they can increase production with the right conditions. Being able to produce platelets for transfusions in the laboratory could overcome not only the difficulties of supply, but also lead to a more advanced product that would suit patients of all blood types, carry no risk of infection and could be more effective than platelets recovered from blood.

Rachel Kayani

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