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Joshua Muia, assistant professor of biochemistry, works in a laboratory at the OSU Center for Health Sciences in Tulsa.
Joshua Muia, assistant professor of biochemistry, works in a laboratory at the OSU Center for Health Sciences in Tulsa. He and his team's research into the ADAMTS13 enzyme recently had their findings published.

OSU biomedical professor, medical students publish research into rare blood disease tests

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Media Contact: Sara Plummer | Communications Coordinator | 918-581-1282 |

Advances are being made in developing new and more versatile tests for the rare, but life-threatening, blood disease TTP thanks to findings recently published by researchers and medical students from Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences.

OSU-CHS assistant professor of biochemistry Joshua Muia, Ph.D., along with several members of his research team including OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine students J. Cameron Barton and Cooper Anderson worked on developing new tests, or assays, that tested the activity of the enzyme ADAMTS13 in plasma.

Their findings were published in the Journal of Thrombosis and Haemostasis in December 2023. 

“ADAMTS13 is an enzyme that regulates the formation of blood clots … It’s a delicate balance of bleeding and clotting. We need clotting to stop a bleed, but we don’t want to form blood clots,” Muia said. 

Thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura, or TTP, is caused when a person’s ADAMTS13 enzymes become dysfunctional, either through genetic mutations or an autoimmune response, leading to blood clot formations in small arteries in the body.

Muia said TTP can manifest like other similar diseases, so the surest way to diagnose TTP is through ADAMTS13 assays. Unfortunately, ADAMTS13 testing is not widely available because it is a highly technical and expensive test to run. 

“There is an unmet need for affordable and easy to use ADAMTS13 testing assay kits,” he said. 

Barton, a fourth-year medical student at OSU-COM and the paper’s lead author, began working with Muia several years ago to improve the TTP diagnostic test because the research was personal to him.

“My mother was diagnosed with ITP, which is somewhat similar to TTP, when she was a child, but the diagnostic tools back then were very ineffective and often painful and invasive,” he said. “Because of this, I had a personal connection to the project’s goal — developing more efficient, useful tools for diagnosing dangerous blood disorders.”

The research team found a new assay using a cattle protein, Cattle-FRETS71, instead of a human protein was more efficient and more versatile in testing ADAMTS13 activity in plasma. And not just in human samples, but dozens of different animal species as well.

“These unique features give the Cattle-FRETS71 assay the ability to be used across many different areas, ranging from clinical studies to more foundational animal-model research,” Barton said.

Muia said the success of developing a new ADAMTS13 assay reaches beyond diagnosing TTP.

“ADAMTS13 activity has been implicated in other disorders,” he said. “While we continue focusing on TTP, we are interested in characterizing ADAMTS13 activity in sepsis, cardiovascular disorders, bleeding and thrombotic disorders.”

The research was funded through a $1.68 million grant from the National Institutes of Health as well as funding from OSU-CHS Research Office Startup Funds and a Student Research Award from the Hemostasis and Thrombosis Research Society. Muia said developing these new assays and publishing the findings were truly a team effort. 

“This manuscript was the result of teamwork from scientists and clinicians from OSU, the University of Oklahoma Health Science Center, and the University of Bern in Switzerland. I cannot overemphasize the resources each group brought to the table including unique patient samples, clinical expertise, statistical support and feedback,” he said.

Medical students play an important role in not just his lab’s research — where they were involved in testing the samples, data analysis, and drafting and revising the manuscript — but the entire field of biomedical research, Muia said.

“First, they are the future of science and it’s always exciting to see them come into the laboratory with zero research experience and end up being co-authors in publications. Students also share our research findings at numerous conferences and symposiums, increasing the visibility and importance of our work here at OSU-CHS,” he said. “This paper’s first author, Cameron Barton, took the lead on the project and even applied for a student research award from the Hemostasis and Thrombosis Research Society for the project — and won.” 

Barton said he is extremely grateful for all the co-authors who dedicated their time and efforts on this project. 

“I am especially thankful for my mentor, Dr. Joshua Muia, for taking me under his wing and guiding me throughout this process. We have spent three-plus years working on this project and I could not be any happier to finally see it culminate in a publication in the Journal of Thrombosis and Haemostasis,” he said.

Barton will graduate from OSU-COM in May and plans to pursue a residency in internal medicine with the goal of becoming a cardiologist, but research is now in his blood.

“I have loved every minute of my research experience while at OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine, and I certainly plan on continuing my research career into residency, fellowship and beyond,” he said.

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