Platelets, the cell fragments in blood that help make clots to stop bleeding, must currently be stored at room temperature for a limit of five days. After this period, the platelets must be thrown away, because they no longer function properly and their risk of bacterial contamination increases sharply.
Shortages in donated platelet supplies can have serious consequences, because patients awaiting platelet transfusions need them urgently. These patients are typically bleeding severely, after major surgeries or accidents, or they may have undergone chemotherapy or bone marrow transplants.
Karin Hoffmeister of Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and one of the lead authors of the Science study, expects the need for platelets to increase in the future. Thomas Stossel of Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School is the other lead author.
"As the population gets older, we need more and more donations. And the number of younger donors is shrinking. The blood banking industry loses a significant amount of money by throwing these bags of platelets away," Hoffmeister said.
Chilling the platelets helps lengthen their storage period, but these platelets die quickly once they are transfused into the body. Using mice and human platelets in test tubes, Hoffmeister, Stossel, and their colleagues have found a way to extend the lives of chilled platelets after transfusion. If the method works for human patients, it could increase the platelet supply and make this blood component easier to transport.
"This research could ultimately help more patients receive life-saving platelet transfusions. The authors
Contact: Christina Smith
American Association for the Advancement of Science