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Release: Dec. 3, 1999

UI participates in multi-center study testing new platelet 'sterilizing' strategy

IOWA CITY, Iowa – The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics is participating in a multi-center trial testing the efficacy and safety of a new way to cleanse infectious organisms from donated platelets before the blood product is administered to patients.

The UI department of pathology has received a one-and-half-year grant from health care companies Baxter and Cerus for the study titled "Determination of the therapeutic efficacy and safety of photochemically treated platelets in thrombocytopenic patients."

Thrombocytopenia is a condition characterized by low blood platelet counts. Platelets are the clotting particles in blood.

The new photochemical strategy attempts to sterilize donated platelets against bacteria and viruses, which may be present in blood products. The goal of the study is to establish that the platelets are not damaged from the sterilization process. Preliminary data suggest that the process does not harm the platelets.

"This is an extremely important study," said Ronald Strauss, M.D., UI professor of pathology and pediatrics and the trial's principal investigator for the UI site. "If this works effectively, it really has the potential to eliminate the transmission of donor infections to patients. It has the potential to really reach the magical zero risk blood supply."

The UI researchers will collect platelets for transfusion in the UI Hospitals and Clinics' Blood Center and treat the blood product with a drug called psoralen, a chemical that binds to the nucleic acid of pathogens. The researchers will then activate the psoralen with ultraviolet light rendering the bacteria and viruses unable to replicate or grow.

"The use of psoralen-type compounds to sterilize certain blood components has been known for several years, but this is a newer form that may increase its effectiveness and its safety," said Strauss. "In preliminary laboratory studies, it seems likely that this special treatment may possibly eliminate donor infections being transmitted to patients."

Although this specific strategy cannot be applied to red blood cell products because the ultraviolet light will not penetrate red blood cells, other strategies have been developed for those cells, Strauss noted.

The current study at the UI Hospitals and Clinics involves the collaboration of the departments of pathology and internal medicine. Roger Gingrich, M.D., Ph.D., UI professor of internal medicine and director of the Adult Bone Marrow Transplant Program at the UI Hospitals and Clinics, will serve as co-investigator.

Over the next year and a half, the UI researchers hope to enroll between 60 and 70 patients. Half the subjects will receive platelets treated photochemically. The other participants will receive untreated platelets. The remainder of the treatment will be identical for all patients enrolled in the study.

University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between the UI College of Medicine and the UI Hospitals and Clinics and the patient care, medical education and research programs and services they provide.