22 March 2019

A new prototype system for measuring platelet function could help doctors in emergency departments to quickly determine which patients need a blood transfusion.

Researchers at the University of Washington, USA, say their two-minute test is a better measure of platelet health compared with existing methods.

Co-corresponding author Dr Nathan Sniadecki, an associate professor in the University of Washington’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, describes how the study team designed a prototype microfluidic device that measures platelet forces in real time.

When a blood sample is injected into the device, the cells hit an obstacle course of tiny blocks and posts that stand up from the base, which are coated in platelet-activating molecules. As a result, the platelets are activated, attached to the block and post, and begin to contract.

Lead author Dr Lucas Ting explains: “The block and post structures act like a mini wound surface. The platelets attach between the block and post, and they start to snowball. They aggregate to form a miniature plug that then begins to contract and pull the post toward the block. Based on how far the post moves, we can determine how functional the platelets are.”

Tiny technology measures platelet health

To assess the clinical utility of the device, the researchers tested it on blood samples donated by 93 trauma patients and 10 healthy participants at a medical centre. The results showed a significant difference between the healthy participants’ blood and that of the trauma patients.

The platelets of the trauma patients had decreased forces compared to those of the healthy participants. Out of the 93 trauma patients, 17 required a blood transfusion during their first 24 hours in the hospital. These patients also had the lowest platelet forces compared to the trauma patients who did not receive a transfusion.

The research was published in the journal Nature Communications. The research team is now investigating how to make the prototype more user friendly. They hope that it will eventually be able to measure platelet strength in other areas of medicine, such as measuring how aspirin or clopidogrel affect different patients, or helping neurosurgeons to monitor patients for bleeding complications during surgery. 

Source: Ting, L.H., Feghhi, S., Taparia, N., Smith, A.O., Karchin, A., Lim, E., John, A.S., Wang, X., Rue, T., White, N.J., Sniadecki, N.J. (2019) “Contractile forces in platelet aggregates under microfluidic shear gradients reflect platelet inhibition and bleeding risk”, Nature Communications, available from doi: 10.1038/s41467-019-09150-9


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