May 26, 2003 

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Battlefield Band-Aids (video)
March 25, 2003

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Interviewees: Jim Hensel, President and CEO, HemCon; Dr. Kenton Gregory, Providence St. Vincent Medical Center, Oregon.

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Lowly Shrimp Could Yield Jumbo Benefits, Researchers Say - CNN (1999)

FDA Clears Innovative Bandage to Stop Severe Bleeding on the Battlefield and in Hospitals

Other new hemostatic products: Quick Clot, and the Red Cross fibrin bandage

While soldiers have more high-tech equipment at their disposal than ever before, the number one cause of death on the battlefield is still a very human one: bleeding.

But, as this ScienCentral News video reports, that may change with the arrival of a new, high-tech bandage.

Shrimp Cocktail May Save Lives

Army medics dress bullet wounds with the same gauze bandage you have in your medicine cabinet at home, the same gauze that’s been used for centuries. But all gauze can do is soak up blood. It does not actually stop bleeding, and is useless for staving off the types of injuries that can cause someone to bleed to death in a few minutes.

But now, scientists have created a bandage that is actually able to clot a bullet wound in less than a minute. The bandages are laced with a mixture of ground shrimp shells and vinegar, a concoction that has been found to clot blood instantly. The key ingredient in the shrimp shells is called chitosan.

“Chitosan is a ubiquitous substance,” says Dr. Kenton Gregory, a cardiologist from Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland, OR. “It’s the second most abundant substance on the planet.” Chitosan is found in the shells of other crustaceans besides shrimp, and also in insect shells.

The bandages were developed by HemCon, Inc., which develops and markets technologies to control severe bleeding for traumatic skin and organ injuries. Gregory, who co-founded HemCon, says chitosan interacts with our blood cells because its molecules carry a positive charge. “The outer membrane of a red blood cell has a negative charge," he explains, "and opposite charges attract. The red cell is attracted to the positively-charged chitosan, and when it touches, it fuses and forms a blood clot.” When a clot forms, the bleeding stops. And unlike a regular bandage, which slips off when wet, the HemCon bandage becomes adhesive and sticks to the wet wound site, sealing and stabilizing it.

“Bleeding is the single largest cause of death on the battlefield,” says Jim Hensel, President and CEO of HemCon. “The technology that exists today prior to the HemCon bandage is a compression bandage and a tourniquet, which is the same thing used in the Civil War, the Revolutionary Way, and frankly, the Trojan War.”

Not Just for Soldiers

While the bandages are currently being produced exclusively for the military, Hensel is aiming for the civilian market. “We’d like to hope that everyone will put one of these in their glove box, and in their tackle box, and have several in their home.”

He also sees many other ways to use them, including in the operating room. “This bandage is made out of bio-compatible materials, which means that we can make an implantable device. In two or three years, after we do more testing and clinical trials, we believe that this product will be used as the mechanical closure for soft tissue injuries—injuries such as liver, spleen, and lung—all of which are difficult to repair.”

Besides of its blood clotting ability, chitosan may have another practical use. Dr. Gregory’s research shows that chitosan also binds bacteria and may kill them. His team poured bacteria onto the bandages, and when they checked under the microscope, the bacteria were all dead. “Although we are not formally claiming that these bandages kill bacteria,” says Dr. Gregory, “the research is there to support it.”

For now, 400 HemCon bandages have already shipped to the U.S. Army, and five were sent directly to the White House. And there’s a supply of 26,500 bandages that will go to the U.S. government over the next several months.

“We’ve developed these bandages so you could treat yourself,” explains Dr. Gregory. “If you got shot in the arm or the leg, you could literally open one of these packages with your teeth and one hand, and just put it on, put pressure on the wound, and it should stop the bleeding.”

Army doctors believe a bandage like this could have saved up to 6,000 lives during the Vietnam War.

The research was supported by the U.S. Army and private funding. Results of experiments on the bandages were published in the Journal of Trauma in January, 2003.

by Karen Lurie

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