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Department of Defense gives $3.5m to biotech making blood platelets from stem cells

A blood sample.
A blood sample.iStock/File

The US Defense Department has awarded $3.5 million to a Cambridge biotech firm that says it has figured out a way to make blood platelets from stem cells, a technology the military believes could be useful in treating battlefield and civilian casualties.

Platelet BioGenesis, which was founded in 2014, said Wednesday that the grant will help the startup develop a bioreactor that is key to the production of platelets, a critical component of blood that promotes clotting.

The grant will "accelerate our development of donor-independent, functional human platelets," said Jonathan Thon, cofounder and chief executive of Platelet BioGenesis. "Our goal is to produce platelets that can be used for life-saving transfusions to wounded soldiers and civilians."


Unlike red blood cells, which can be frozen, platelets have a shelf life of five days, so they are often in limited supply despite blood drives. Platelet BioGenesis says it is the only company that can make functional human platelets from stem cells, completely independent of donors.

The company uses human stem cells to create bone marrow cells, which would then be put in a bioreactor. The bioreactor would mimic the environment inside bone marrow, the sponge-like tissue that produces platelets.

Compared with platelets made from donated blood, the platelets made by Platelet BioGenesis would be cheaper, last longer, and be free of disease, said the company.

Platelet BioGenesis has produced such platelets in the laboratory for the past two years but has yet to test them in clinical trials, which are expected to start in two years. The company hopes to win Food and Drug Administration approval in 2022.

The startup emerged from the labs of Harvard University and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and has gotten about $20 million in funding from venture capitalists and other sources, including the two-year Defense Department grant.


"Producing human platelets has been a goal of scientists and physicians for more than 100 years," said Sven Karlsson, cofounder of Platelet BioGenesis. "With this grant, we intend to accelerate the development of our platelet bioreactor and also create a mobile system that can help wounded soldiers on the battlefield and civilians injured in natural disasters."

Jonathan Saltzman can be reached at jsaltzman@globe.