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Jonathan Thon `04

Band-Aids of the Bloodstream


Dr. Jonathan Thon is working on ways to boost platelet production in the lab using a bio-mimetic human platelet bioreactor. Platelets are the 'band-aids' of the bloodstream - they are the cells in your blood that stop you from bleeding. Every major surgery and chemotherapy require platelet transfusions, which are life-saving. More than 15 million platelet units are transfused annually worldwide.

These are derived entirely from human volunteer donors, which make them especially vulnerable to (often weekly) supply shortages. There are also storage constraints with transfused platelets that propagate this problem- unlike other blood components platelets store for only 5 days.

Because collection, storage, and contamination of platelets is so constrained, platelet transfusions are mostly limited to first-world countries, and even then often only in major city centers in first-world countries. "I want to improve the human condition. It's why I entered academic science in the first place - to increase our understanding of the living world - and why I founded Platelet BioGenesis - to translate this understanding for our collective benefit."

Jonathan adds, "Being able to disconnect platelet collection from donor availability by making human platelets ourselves opens up the rest of the world to live-saving platelet transfusions that we take for granted here. Can you imagine?"


McMaster University: Why did you want to pursue this type of work?

Jonathan Thon: I want to improve the human condition. It's why I entered academic science in the first place – to increase our understanding of the living world - and why I founded Platelet BioGenesis - to translate this understanding for our collective benefit.

McMaster: Why is this work important?

Thon: Platelets are the 'band-aids' of the bloodstream - they are the cells in your blood that stop you from bleeding.

Every major surgery and chemotherapy require platelet transfusions, which are life-saving. More than 20 million platelet units are transfused annually worldwide, and are derived entirely from human volunteer donors! While critical, this makes them especially vulnerable to supply shortages (which happen regularly/weekly!), storage constraints (unlike other blood components, platelets store for only 5 days!), bacterial contamination on collection (this is the major transfusion risk to patients), and viral contamination (which is a major unknown since we can't screen for viruses we don't yet know exist! as was the case with HIV and HepC).

Without question, disconnecting platelet collection from donor availability, storage constraints, and sterility concerns, and donor availability will improve our quality of care and save countless lives.

McMaster: What is the broader context to the general public?

Thon: Availability of healthcare is paramount to improving human health and well-being. Because collection, storage, and contamination of platelets is so constrained, platelet transfusions are mostly limited to first-world countries, and even then often major city centers within first-world countries. For example, there are nearly 40 platelet donations per 1000 persons in high-income countries, whereas that number falls to roughly 12 donations per 1000 persons in middle-income countries and just 4 donations per 1000 persons in low-income countries!

Being able to disconnect platelet collection from donor availability by making human platelets ourselves opens up the rest of the world to live-saving platelet transfusions we take for granted here. Can you imagine?

McMaster: What was your favourite memory of your time at Mac? Favourite place when you were on campus?

Thon: I met my wife at McMaster, which is my most memorable highlight. First day of first year biology. I was sitting near the top 'bleachers', when I saw her walk into the room. My favourite place on campus would have to be the passages and trails between Whidden Hall (my residence) and Moulton Hall (hers). There was always such an energy (nervousness, euphoria) on our late night walks together.