Battling blood loss with artificial platelets

BY BRANDON PATTERSON AND MARC T. HENRY DE FRAHAN

Red blood cells graphic

From the battlefield to the emergency room, women and men die from blood loss every day. The body's natural solution to bleeding is to use cell fragments called platelets to clot the blood and stop the bleeding. In some cases though, because of a disease or a particularly severe injury, the body's natural mechanisms just aren't enough. Enter Jin Lee, a University of Michigan PhD student with his mind aimed at solving this bloody problem. Jin is making artificial platelets to help the body out. Jin envisions a world in which a wounded soldier or an emergency responder can simply inject artificial platelets and stop the blood loss. 

Jin isn't the first to attempt to create artificial platelets, but the problem isn't easy to solve. Previous attempts by others have run into issues including uncontrolled clotting, which can happen when the platelets activate in other parts of the body instead of at the wound. Jin hopes to avoid this runaway clotting by making sure that his platelets home in on the wound before triggering clotting. Jin's platelets are coated in a special protein that makes sure the platelets bind to the wound. Once there, his artificial platelets activate when they feel the blood flow rushing past them. They form a clot to plug the wound and stop the blood loss.

Currently, the platelets are still in the design and manufacturing phase. But soon they will be tested, first in the lab, then in zebrafish and other animals. Only once the kinks have been worked out in animals can the platelets be tested in humans. There is still a long way to go on the research path, but once they are complete, Jin's artificial platelets could be a real life-saver.