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New Life Saving Bandage Therapy

It is a common, yet horrifying image. A traffic accident, a shooting, a fall or a stabbing. And the victim lies dead in a pool of blood, life drained away by severe hemorrhaging that could not be stopped in time.

Blood loss through wounds claims tens of thousands of lives each year, but researchers are working to change that by developing a type of bandage that clots blood instantly. Scientists with the American Red Cross have teamed with United States Army researchers to produce bandages and other dressings that they say can seal a severe, bleeding wound in seconds with a tough, artificial scab.

After about eight years of work in the laboratory and with animals, the researchers say the sealants are almost ready for human trials. If the dressings prove effective and safe in the real world, scientists say, they could radically change emergency treatment for civilians and soldiers, saving thousands of lives now routinely lost. They foresee that these dressings will be carried not only by ambulances, but also in police cars, fire trucks and other emergency vehicles that arrive first on trauma scenes.

The military interest in an improved field bandage is also obvious, Dr. Drohan said. Of the soldiers who die on the battlefield, 50 per cent bleed to death, he said, and having soldiers carry clotting bandages as part of their gear could increase their chances of survival.

Dr. Barbara Alving, a blood expert with the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, said that if the new bandages proved effective, they could have a big impact upon emergency care. Doctors may see fewer patients who have gone into shock from blood loss, but may also see an increase in severely injured people who otherwise would have died before reaching the hospital, she said.

The idea is to take two human blood plasma proteins, fibrinogen and thrombin, which are key components in stopping bleeding, and concerntrating them at the site of the wound to speed the natural clotting process. While the concept is not new, finding a practical and safe way of doing it has challenged scientists for decades.

Technical advances in blood work, brought on in part by recent efforts to cleanse blood products that might be contaminated with the virus that causes AIDS and by the discovery of new ways of isolating fibrinogen and thrombin from each other until they are needed, have opened up new approached to making clotting dressings, scientists say.

With support from the US Army, the Red Cross has developed methods, for which it is seeking patent rights, to bring clotting ingredients together in several forms to make easy-to-use sealants for different types of wounds.

Most of the effort has gone into a bandage, embedded with clotting proteins, that is pressed into a wound and held in place for a couple of minutes. The researchers have also developed a self-expanding sealant foam that can be propelled from a container into deep wounds or the body cavity to contact internal bleeding sites. The team is also investigating a dry spray that would be squirted on a large, open wound or a burned area.

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