Taking a cue from the human body’s own coagulation processes, researchers at UC Santa Barbara synthesize platelet-like nanoparticles that can do more than clot blood
Stanching the free flow of blood from an injury remains a holy grail of clinical medicine. Controlling blood flow is a primary concern and first line of defense for patients and medical staff in many situations, from traumatic injury to illness to surgery. If control is not established within the first few minutes of a hemorrhage, further treatment and healing are impossible.
At UC Santa Barbara, researchers in the Department of Chemical Engineering and at Center for Bioengineering (CBE) have turned to the human body’s own mechanisms for inspiration in dealing with the necessary and complicated process of coagulation. By creating nanoparticles that mimic the shape, flexibility and surface biology of the body’s own platelets, they are able to accelerate natural healing processes while opening the door to therapies and treatments that can be customized to specific patient needs.
“This is a significant milestone in the development of synthetic platelets, as well as in targeted drug delivery,” said Samir Mitragotri, CBE director, who specializes in targeted therapy technologies. Results of the researchers’ findings appear in the current issue of the journal ACS Nano.
The process of coagulation is familiar to anyone who has suffered even the most minor of injuries, such as a scrape or paper cut. Blood rushes to the site of the injury, and within minutes the flow stops as a plug forms at the site. The tissue beneath and around the plug works to knit itself back together and eventually the plug disappears.
But what we don’t see is the coagulation cascade, the series of signals and other factors that promote the clotting of blood and enable the transition between a free-flowing fluid at the site and a viscous substance that brings healing factors to the injury. Coagulation is actually a choreography of various substances, among the most important of which are platelets, the blood component that accumulates at the site of the wound to form the initial plug.
“While these platelets flow in our blood, they’re relatively inert,” said graduate student researcher Aaron Anselmo, lead author of the paper. As soon as an injury occurs, however, the platelets, because of the physics of their shape and their response to chemical stimuli, move from the main flow to the side of the blood vessel wall and congregate, binding to the site of the injury and to each other. As they do so, the platelets release chemicals that “call” other platelets to the site, eventually plugging the wound.
But what happens when the injury is too severe, or the patient is on anti-coagulation medication, or is otherwise impaired in his or her ability to form a clot, even for a modest or minor injury?
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