Platelets are blood cells that when inactive look like tiny dinner plates. When an injury occurs, the platelets rush to the damaged area like first responders. They then change shape and grow arms which pull together and hold torn tissue. In essence, they function like tiny robots to recognize what’s wrong and fix it. We like to think of them as nanorobots. One example of the work of platelets can be seen when we cut ourselves and the bleeding stops within a few minutes. Platelets are responsible for stopping the bleeding and forming a scab.
But platelets do much more than that. They also release growth factors and orchestrate the healing response. They stimulate the synthesis of collagen, which is the foundation of most tissue.
Platelets easily arrive to areas of the body with a good blood supply. However, there are many areas the platelets cannot reach. For example, these would include the knee meniscus, the hip labrum, the spinal discs, the TMJ joint in the jaw and many other areas that tend not to heal well and can result in chronic pain.
Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) injections involve taking a patient’s own blood and centrifuging it to concentrate the platelets. The PRP is then injected at the site of injury to repair the damaged tissue, eliminate pain and improve function. “Using ultrasound, we can precisely detect the site of injury and perform the injection,” explains Dr. Marko Bodor. PRP can be effective for a number of conditions that cause chronic pain, including those in which surgery has not been successful.
The work of NMRF involves using platelets in areas where they are naturally not present. In the future, we hope that PRP and platelet-derived therapies will become as common as antibiotics are today. In the meantime, we must work hard to further our understanding of platelets, injury, healing and pain.