Researchers at Tufts University have stabilized blood samples for long periods of time without refrigeration and at high temperatures by encapsulating them in air-dried silk protein.
The technique, which is published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has broad applications for clinical care and research that rely on accurate analysis of blood and other biofluids.
Blood contains proteins, enzymes, lipids, metabolites, and peptides that serve as biomarkers for health screening, monitoring and diagnostics. Both research and clinical care often require blood to be collected outside a laboratory. However, unless stored at controlled temperatures, these biomarkers rapidly deteriorate, jeopardizing the accuracy of subsequent laboratory analysis. Existing alternative collection and storage solutions, such as drying blood on paper cards, still fail to effectively protect biomarkers from heat and humidity.
The Tufts scientists successfully mixed a solution or a powder of purified silk fibroin protein extracted from silkworm cocoons with blood or plasma and air-dried the mixture. The air-dried silk films were stored at temperatures between 22 and 45 degrees C (71.6 to 113 degrees F). At set intervals, encapsulated blood samples were recovered by dissolving the films in water and analyzed.
“This approach should facilitate outpatient blood collection for disease screening and monitoring, particularly for underserved populations, and also serve needs of researchers and clinicians without access to centralized testing facilities. For example, this could support large-scale epidemiologic studies or remote pharmacological trials,” said senior and corresponding author David L. Kaplan, Ph.D., Stern Family Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Tufts School of Engineering.