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A Matter of Life & Death

Platelets are produced in the bone marrow by cells called megakaryocytes.	iStock

Platelets are produced in the bone marrow by cells called megakaryocytes. iStockphoto

By Vanessa Solomon, Benjamin Kile & Emma Josefsson

Discovering the factors that control the lifespan of the cells that form blood clots could improve cancer treatments and extend the shelf-life of blood donations.

Vanessa Solomon, Benjamin Kile and Emma Josefsson are based at The Walter & Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Mammals have evolved a blood-clotting system that stops bleeding by plugging damaged blood vessels. This blood-clotting system involves platelets and must be tightly regulated. Low platelet numbers in the blood or clotting factor deficiencies like haemophilia can cause fatal blood loss. Conversely, pathological platelet activation can lead to heart attack or stroke when clots block blood vessels in the heart or brain.

Our research is unravelling which factors control platelet numbers. The platelet volume in blood is dependent on how quickly new platelets can be formed from their mother cells in the bone marrow and how promptly platelets are lost from the circulation.

We have previously discovered quite a bit about the proteins regulating platelet survival, and hope that medications can be designed to control these proteins’ function. In the longer term, medications that increase platelet numbers may be useful for treating dangerously low platelet numbers, which can be a side-effect of anti-cancer treatments. Furthermore, combination therapy during chemotherapy treatments could be selected to avoid targeting the specific molecules that keep platelets and their mother cells alive. Compounds that can extend platelet lifespan would also have applications in prolonging the storage of platelets, enabling more efficient use of precious blood donations.

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The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.