Lasers are the Exciting, Safe New Way to Treat Thrombocytopenia

If you’re living with thrombocytopenia (that is, a severely low level of platelets in your blood), then Dr. Mei X. Wu may be your new best friend.

The associate professor at Harvard Medical School is part of a research team that has determined that low-level lasers can be used to stimulate platelet production, effectively curing the condition.
Thrombocytopenia can be the result of a number of other conditions, including autoimmune disorders that attack platelets, or as the side effect of medical treatments such as chemotherapy. It may also be present in premature babies or in those infected with HIV.
Genetic defects and physical trauma have also been known to cause thrombocytopenia.

Historically, the condition – which can be fatal due to the blood’s inability to clot – has been treated either with medication or platelet transfusions…neither of which is always safe.

Transfusions can lead to:

  • allergic reactions,
  • fevers,
  • infections,
  • or severe responses from the immune system.

Medication must be carefully dosed to avoid the other end of the spectrum–excessive platelets. Also, medicinal intervention isn’t always suitable, depending on the type of thrombocytopenia.

Now, however, Dr. Wu’s laser (woo! laser!) is a potential new treatment that would be safe, drug-free, and completely independent from finding a matching donor.

To understand how this laser approach works, there’s a little bit of science we need to go over:

First of all, megakaryocytes are a type of cell found in the bone marrow. Megakaryocytes are the source of blood platelets. Think of them as the egg from which the blood platelet chicken emerges. (Side note: “blood platelet chicken” would make a great Halloween costume.)

Secondly, mitochondria are parts of a cell the way lungs are part of the human body. Through a process called “cellular respiration” they produce energy for the cell.

So how is it that lasers work to treat thrombocytopenia?

Because mitochondria evolved from bacteria that used light as a key ingredient in their chemical processes, lasers can stimulate the mitochondria in megakaryocytes to increase platelet production. Lasers, after all, are just light with a very specific wavelength. In fact, lasers have already been used to stimulate wound healing, relieve pain, and to treat strokes and neurological disorders.

In Dr. Wu’s study, it was found that lasers:

  • increased the size of the megakaryocytes,
  • accelerated the formation of platelets,
  • and even doubled the number of platelets generated from the megakaryocytes.

The only downside to this discovery is that no device currently exists that can target a large enough area of the body. Theoretically, that device could be a wearable vest or chair on which a person would sit, composed of an array of lasers that could target enough bones (and, therefore, bone marrow and megakaryocytes) to produce enough platelets to cure thrombocytopenia.

So… if you or someone you know happens to be an inventor skilled with lasers, get on that.

If you’re living with thrombocytopenia, would you let yourself be a guinea pig for new laser treatments?

James Ernest Cassady

James Ernest Cassady

Though "Ernest" is a family name that's been passed down for generations, James truly earned his middle moniker when, at the age of five, he told his mother that "laughing is stupid unless EVERYBODY is happy." Since then, the serious little bastard has been on a mission to highlight the world's shortcomings (and hopefully correct them). In addition to his volunteer work at hospitals and animal shelters, James also enjoys documentaries and the work of William Faulkner. He is originally from Oklahoma.

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