Self-clot bandage a war zone life-saver
A NEW chemical bandage that will help save lives on the battlefield by instantly helping to clot blood and staunch wounds is being developed by Scottish scientists.
Researchers at Edinburgh University have identified a group of polymers - molecules used in the manufacture of plastics - that accelerate the crucial clotting properties of platelets in blood.
The polymers could have significant use in battlefield conditions as they can be sprayed on to bandages and applied directly to an injury to instantly begin the coagulation process. The problem of treating battlefield wounds remains a major challenge with "bleeding out" - the loss of too much blood to sustain pressure and heartbeat - one of the major causes of death after injury.
The polymers could also have a much wider use in civilian life if incorporated into the sticking plasters commonly used to stop blood flow from cuts and other injuries. Not only do they speed up the clotting process, they are also believed to prolong how long clots last.
The research team was headed by Mark Bradley, Professor of High-Throughput Chemical Biology, and Anne Hansen at the university's Chemical Sciences school.
It has been known that polymers have medical applications, but not which ones can perform certain roles. Using a new identification technique, the Edinburgh researchers tested huge numbers of polymer combinations for more than 12 months before pinpointing the few types which have the key characteristics needed to kick-start the healing process.
Bradley said that the polymers have practical applications in both military and civilian situations. "Polymers can be processed on to a bandage or even a mesh, similar to that used in a plaster, to stop the gauze adhering to the scab, to start the clotting process," he said. "Hopefully, you would be able to whip out a packet of bandages that would immediately staunch the blood from the wound."
The team used technology similar to that incorporated in ink-jet printers to mix the materials to create the thousands of polymers needed to find the ones with the right qualities.
Previously, testing just one polymer took up to 24 hours. The new process developed at the university allows up to 2,000 polymers to be tested as quickly as it took to test five before. The polymers were then sprayed onto glass plates where they were placed in contact with blood platelets.
Bradley said: "We then took this very large number of polymers and added platelets, the materials in our body that coagulate and stop bleeding."The idea was that by adding blood, we could identify which of these polymers the platelets were, firstly, binding to, and, secondly, were being activated by - that is to say to start forming the fibres that seal-up the wound."
A spokeswoman for the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service (SNBTS), which worked closely with the university on the project, said: "The combination of methodical approaches and complementary skills that the collaboration between SNBTS and Professor Bradley's Group at the Edinburgh University School of Chemistry brings is extremely valuable. New polymer materials suitable for blood and blood components is an exciting development for the future."
Further research has to be carried out into the properties of the polymers before the breakthrough can move into commercial development, but Bradley believes new products could be on the market within three to four years. The university's chemistry department has already turned some of its research into a commercial reality. In the past year, a simple, low-cost DNA test that can give results in just 30 minutes was spun out into a stand-alone business.
Caroline Strain, the head of Chemical Sciences Scotland, a Scottish Enterprise body which helps co-ordinate research programmes, said that cutting-edge work in university departments was making a key contribution in helping the national economy.
"Scotland offers considerable opportunity to commercialise the world class academic research our institutions are undertaking," she said. "In this particular case, the chemistry research being undertaken in Edinburgh could save the lives of some of our troops in Afghanistan."
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Defence said it was constantly seeking developments in battlefield medicine research and would be monitoring the progress of the emerging Edinburgh work.
Army medics have learned that rapidly stopping or reducing potentially fatal blood loss in the first few moments after injury is a key factor in survival. If an arterial wound can be staunched, the patient immediately has a better chance of surviving. Studies undertaken by the US Army Institute of Surgical Research found that blood loss accounted for up to 40 per cent of all combat deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan and contributed to 79 per cent of "potentially survivable" deaths.
At present, combat medics have a limited range of solutions that focus on retaining as much blood and keeping blood pressure as high as possible. Tightly-wrapped bandages and blood-clotting solutions are used to slow blood loss. In extreme cases, soldiers are instructed to wrap a tourniquet that nearly cuts off blood to a limb to preserve blood for vital organs.
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