Blood Coagulation Research using SEM

Accelerated Workflow using Phenom SEM for Clotting and Bleeding Research

"Until recently we viewed a drop of blood under an optical microscope. It took three days to fully analyze. Now we put the sample under the SEM and we’re ready in three minutes."

Coagulation of blood is a complicated and critical process. At the Maastricht University and Synapse spin-off, fundamental research is taking place and practical detection methods are being developed for thrombosis and bleeding. A good snapshot of the clotting helps researchers to gain a better grasp of the phenomenon. Synapse is using the Phenom for this purpose. With the support of advanced software, the Phenom tabletop scanning electron microscope accelerates the analysis of a blood sample from three days to three minutes. 

SEM BSD image of blood clots and fiber from Synapse

Phenom SEM image of a clot at 5500x showing platelets trapped in a fibrin network

If the interaction of clotting factors in the blood is not functioning properly, the clotting may be too strong (thrombosis) or too weak (spontaneous bleeding). The role of the thrombin enzyme in the conversion of the fibrinogen clotting factor into fibrin was discovered at Maastricht University. In the event of damage to a blood vessel, fibers from that protein form a network that can ‘capture’ platelets whereby a clot is created that seals the wound. Synapse was established in 1999 as a spin-off of this scientific breakthrough.

Measuring Thrombin Activity

“Synapse researches new methods for detecting and predicting thrombosis and bleeding,” says managing director Bas de Laat.

Synapse benefits from using Phenom SEM for fiber analysis

"Synapse benefits from using Phenom SEM for fiber analysis" - Bas de Laat

“What’s unique is that we do everything from basic research to prototype. In 2009 we were acquired by the French diagnostics group STAGO, the world leader in blood coagulation tests. They have invested significantly in us and we have secured many grants, whereby we have grown to 35 employees and five labs.” Synapse has its own technical lab, but also often works with companies in the vicinity, such as Maastricht Instruments.

“After we have built a prototype, we transfer it to our parent company or to another company for production. We then have revenues from the licensing of our patents.”

Synapse developed a measuring apparatus for the thrombin activity in blood plasma (the liquid blood from which the blood cells have been removed).

Fiber Measurements

Synapse continues in the research on coagulation. Important parameters are the number of fibers and the thickness of the fibers in a fibrin network.

“If it’s a fine and strong network, there is more risk of thrombosis. If there are large gaps in the network, there is more risk of bleeding. Until recently we viewed a drop of blood under an optical microscope. It took three days to fully analyze. Now we put the sample under the SEM and we’re ready in three minutes.”

De Laat refers to the Phenom, the tabletop scanning electron microscope from Phenom-World. The speed of the Phenom is due to its mechatronic construction and smart image processing software.

“The Phenom has a nice algorithm for fibres,” explains De Laat. “The Fibermetric software automatically determines the thickness of the fibers in the order of 100 nanometers and the size of the pores between the fibrin threads.”

Phenom SEM fiber analysis data for fibrin in blood clot from SynapseAutomated fiber analysis using FiberMetric with the Phenom SEM

Owing to the simple operation and automatic analysis, the Phenom saves significant labor costs at Synapse.

“Put the sample in, operate with the touchscreen, anyone can work with it. We don’t need to continue to grow in numbers of personnel and instead of looking at a sample for three days, we can now focus on smarter thinking.”  

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