Introduction. Many human diseases are treated with blood-contacting medical devices. However, they are often compromised because of blood proteins that accumulate on their surfaces. Such accumulation activates both platelets and blood coagulation, and patients supported by blood-contacting devices are at high risk of both bleeding and clotting. Blood passing through medical devices is often subjected to high shear stresses (especially near surfaces) and flow acceleration, conditions that we have shown promote rapid deposition of the large plasma glycoprotein von Willebrand factor (VWF) onto uncoated surfaces. Additionally, acquired Von Willebrand syndrome (AVWS) - a bleeding disorder caused by deficiency of high molecular weight VWF multimers - has been described in patients supported with ECMOs (extracorporeal membrane oxygenators) and LVADs (left ventricular assist devices). Blood in these patients experiences high shear stress when passing through the blood pump in ECMOs and LVADs. Thus, the adsorption of VWF to artificial surfaces under shear is likely to initiate platelet binding and the adsorption of other plasma proteins, including clotting proteins. Here, we show that polymers generated from the sulfobetaine methacrylate (SBMA) when coated onto surfaces are able to render these surfaces resistant to VWF binding (< 5 ng/cm2) under both static conditions and under shear stress.

Preliminary results. We synthesized SBMA polymers (pSBMA) from SBMA according to methods described in the literature. Previously, we tested various coating conditions for pSBMA to achieve the lowest VWF adsorption. Under optimal conditions, VWF adsorption to pSBMA-coated polypropylene tubes was 4% of that to uncoated tubes (< 2.6 ng/cm2) after the tubes were exposed to a VWF solution (5 µg/mL) under shear applied with a vortexer (3000 rpm at RT for 90 min). In this work, we prepared a microfluidic device of polydimethylsiloxane that contained a tortuous flow channel to mimic shear stress conditions of blood vessels and tested the ability of pSBMA to prevent VWF deposition and platelet binding under different shear stress conditions.

Methods. Purified plasma VWF (2.5 µg/mL) was perfused through the uncoated and pSBMA-coated devices for 1 h with a gravity-driven pump. To image the VWF structure, 5% BSA was perfused through the system to block nonspecific protein adsorption. Then FITC-labeled anti-human VWF antibody was perfused into the chamber system. After incubation at room temperature for 1 h, PBS was introduced to wash the system. The devices were fixed with 3.7% formaldehyde, incubated, and washed with PBS. We also perfused 1 mL of citrated human whole blood containing platelets stained with calcein AM through the devices at 0.05 mL/min with syringe pump to image platelet binding.

Results. Under both conditions, VWF and platelet binding to the pSBMA-coated device was much lower than to the uncoated device. On the uncoated device, VWF formed aggregates which could not be washed away. By quantifying fluorescence intensity, we found that most VWF adsorbed along curves compared to the straight regions, the inlet, or the outlet of the chamber, consistent with shear stress simulation results that indicate that VWF deposits in the regions of highest shear and elongational flow. When whole blood was perfused through the chamber, the platelets bound to the entire device surface, with the inlet and outlet having relatively higher levels. In contrast, in the pSBMA-coated device, VWF bound loosely and could be removed almost completely with washing. We then perfused whole blood through uncoated or pSBMA-coated chambers without VWF pre-perfusion. Unlike the findings with VWF pre-perfusion, there was no apparent platelet binding in either device, indicating that the high level of platelet binding on the uncoated devices required time for VWF to deposit on the surface.

Conclusions. PSBMA effectively prevented VWF adsorption under shear in two types of devices, and was stable during storage. We expect this coating, or a variation of it to significantly enhance the lifetime of blood-contacting devices and reduce both costs and medical complications of their use.


No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.