Dr. Jonathan Kopechek Breathes New Life Into Blood Storage

January 31, 2018

Headshot of Jonathan KopechekWith a background in Electrical and Computer Engineering, assistant professor Dr. Jonathan Kopechek found himself gravitating towards the bioengineering, which affords him opportunities to practically help people directly. Currently, his research focuses on image-guided molecular therapy platforms utilizing ultrasound-responsive drug and gene carriers for treatment of cancer and cardiovascular diseases. On his most recent project, Kopechek has teamed with collaborators to determine a means of freeze drying blood. 

“I've always been interested in engineering, but I also wanted to have a positive impact on patient treatments in medicine, so bioengineering was a great fit for my interests,” says Kopechek.

Conceived after conversations with Dr. Michael Menze and researcher Brett Janis, Kopechek found the inspiration for his next project, to freeze-dry blood. Receiving a grant from the ExCITE program, which focuses on taking ground- breaking research from the academic laboratories into the marketplace, Kopechek and his team hope their process will offer the ability to store blood in a dried state for long-term storage at ambient temperatures.

He says, “My research program focuses on utilizing ultrasound to induce transient pores in the cell membranes for intracellular delivery of therapeutic agents, so we decided to try using this approach for delivery of the protective compounds which are found in nature. So far the results have been very promising.” He adds, “This could be very beneficial in situations where blood supply is limited or refrigeration/freezing is challenging, including remote medical centers, humanitarian missions, military applications, strategic reserves, and space travel.”

Red blood cells circulate for about 100-120 days before they are replaced, but suffer a shorter shelf-life even when refrigerated, where cells consume nutrients in the storing fluid, with the by products of such leading to unhealthy side effects. Because of this, the FDA only allows red blood cells to remain in refrigerated storage for 42 days.

He explains, “In many cases doctors cannot wait several hours for the blood to be prepared, so frozen blood is not used very often. In addition, it requires specialized freezers that cool the blood to -80 degrees Celsius, which adds to the storage cost. Currently, frozen blood is primarily used by the military or to store rare blood types for clinical use.”