The most critical need after a traumatic injury is to stop bleeding that occurs, and the body's immediate response is to form blood clots. Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University say the chemical signals from those initial clots may control subsequent healing. They have used that information to develop artificial blood platelets that in animal studies have reduced clotting time by one third.
The synthetic platelets, which have yet to be tested in humans, are made from tiny structures called hydrogels. They would respond to the same chemical signals that activate the body's natural clotting agents, so they could be injected into the bloodstream where they would circulate until a need for clotting and healing arose. Then, they would travel to the injury site, converting to a thin film to help seal wounds. The hydrogel platelets would also be laced with regulatory chemicals designed to prevent, lessen or even reverse scar formation.
The research has focused on helping soldiers injured on the battlefield. The scientists envision that one day, soldiers could carry a small injector device with freeze-dried platelets that could be used to control bleeding until medical help arrived. The technology could also be used by civilian emergency medical workers, treating patients with suspected internal bleeding.
The researchers reported their findings Friday in Boston at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Their research is being supported by the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Defense.