Most military battlefield casualties die before ever reaching a surgical hospital. Of those soldiers who might potentially survive, most die from uncontrolled bleeding.
In some cases, there’s not much medics can do - a tourniquet won’t stop bleeding from a chest wound, and clotting treatments that require refrigerated or frozen blood products aren’t always available in the field.
That’s why University of Washington researchers have developed a new injectable polymer that strengthens blood clots, called PolySTAT. Administered in a simple shot, the polymer finds any unseen or internal injuries and starts working immediately.
The new polymer could become a first line of defense in everything from battlefield injuries to rural car accidents to search and rescue missions deep in the mountains. It has been tested in rats, and researchers say it could reach human trials in five years.
The Vision: Polymers from the Syringe
In the initial study with rats, 100 percent of animals injected with PolySTAT survived a typically-lethal injury to the femoral artery. Only 20 percent of rats treated with a natural protein that helps blood clot survived. "Most of the patients who die from bleeding die quickly," said co-author Dr. Nathan White, an assistant professor of emergency medicine who teamed with UW bioengineers and chemical engineers to develop the macromolecule.
"This is something you could potentially put in a syringe inside a backpack and give right away to reduce blood loss and keep people alive long enough to make it to medical care," he said. The UW team was inspired by factor XIII, a natural protein found in the body that helps strengthen blood clots.
Normally after an injury, platelets in the blood begin to congregate at the wound and form an initial barrier. Then a network of specialized fibers - called fibrin - start weaving themselves throughout the clot to reinforce it.
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