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A blood component made in silk.

Researchers have created an artificial version of human bone marrow that can generate functional blood platelets, which play a role in blood clotting. The cells are made using a bioreactor that consists of a 3-D silk scaffold seeded with cells and biochemicals.

Similar bioreactors could enable researchers to study the behavior of new bone marrow drugs. Physicians could also grow a patient's own platelets in a bioreactor for clinical use, or to test which drug or combination of drugs might provide the most effective treatment for an individual.

The bioreactor was developed by Alessandra Balduini, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Tufts University and molecular medicine at the University of Pavia in Italy, and David Kaplan, chair of biomedical engineering at Tufts.

"Silk protein possesses a unique molecular structure that enables it to be modeled in a wide variety of forms and stiffnesses, characteristics that have been shown to affect platelet formation and release," Kaplan said. "Furthermore, silk is biocompatible and has the ability to stabilize bioactive agents at normal temperatures; therefore we can functionalize it by adding such agents."

In some ways, Kaplan's scaffold resembles the spongy marrow found inside bone cavities. In human marrow, platelets form when large cells called megakaryocytes break apart into hundreds of smaller cells. They become fully functional platelets as they move through the marrow and interact with surrounding cells and biochemicals.

Kaplan recreates some aspects of that environment by spinning microtubes of silk, collagen, and fibronectin. He then surrounds them with a porous silk matrix for the scaffold.

Working with Balduini, an expert on bone marrow chemicals, Kaplan embeds a variety of cells and proteins into the matrix. Finally, he seeds it with megakaryocytes.

The megakaryocytes in the bioreactor do not produce as many platelets as they do in bone marrow. But tests show the bioreactor platelets aggregate and clot just like the ones formed in the human body.

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Title Annotation:TECH BUZZ
Publication:Mechanical Engineering-CIME
Date:May 1, 2015
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