Unstoppable bleeding is one of the leading causes of death on battlefields. But now, soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan have a way to reduce bleeding when they're wounded. In "War Bandages," ScienCentral News writes that these new bandages contain chitosan molecules, extracted from shrimp shells. These positively charged chitosan molecules attract negatively charged red blood cells, stopping hemorrhage in one to five minutes. As said one of the co-founders of the Oregon-based company behind these bandages, "You can have a hole in your heart and 60 seconds later it's sealed." The Food and Drug Administration approved these bandages for human usage, but today they are exclusively sold to the Army. With a $90 price tag for a 4-inch-by-4-inch single bandage, would you buy them anyway?
Here are some details about these bandages made of shrimp-based chitosan.
The bandages were developed by HemCon, Inc., which develops and markets technologies to control severe bleeding for traumatic skin and organ injuries. The key ingredient in the shrimp shells is called chitosan. Kenton Gregory, a cardiologist from Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland, Oregon who co-founded HemCon, says unlike the gauze that traditional bandages are made from, chitosan interacts with our blood cells because its molecules carry a positive charge.
"The problem with gauze is that it really has no clotting ability," Gregory explains. "Generally the gauze just saturates, is just saturated with blood, and the bleeding continues. The chitosan has a positive charge. All of our cells, our red blood cells, the outer membranes have negative charges. And the negative charge of the red [blood] cell is attracted to the positive charge of the chitosan. As soon as they touch, the red cell fuses and forms a clot against the chitosan, and that forms a very tight, adherent clot, and a tight adherence to the surface of the wound."
You can see below how the negatively charged red blood cells are attracted by the positively charged chitosan molecules. (Credit: Illustration by Jason Lee, for Popular Science)
This illustration comes from a short story about the HemCon Bandage published by Popular Science in its December 2003 issue, giving the badage one of its Best in Science award. In it, Gregory said "You can have a hole in your heart and 60 seconds later it's sealed."
In "HemCon grows with shrimp tech," published in November 2003, The Business Journal of Portland adds some financial information.
As the [Iraqi] conflict has escalated HemCon has shipped more than 11,000 of the bandages -- made of shrimp-based chitosan -- and has backlog orders totaling 40,000.
The medical device company will log revenue of about $3.5 million in 2003 -- the bulk from military and government allocations -- and is projecting impressive growth to $20 million in 2004 revenue.
It's interesting to notice that this bandage was not invented by HemCon. Instead, the company licensed the technology.
Dr. William Wiesmann, HemCon president and CEO, stressed HemCon is a model outcome of a successful technology transfer. The bandage was developed at the bargain price of $400,000, and it will ultimately bring millions into the state [of Oregon].
The bandage was invented at the Oregon Medical Laser Center, based at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center, through a research grant from the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command. The chitosan bandage technology was then licensed from Providence Health System to HemCon Inc., founded by Dr. Kenton Gregory.
The research work about how the chitosan dressing on these bandages stops hemorrhage was published by The Journal of Trauma. Here is a link to the abstract of the paper named "Effect of a Chitosan-Based Hemostatic Dressing on Blood Loss and Survival in a Model of Severe Venous Hemorrhage and Hepatic Injury in Swine."
Sources: ScienCentral News, August 27, 2004; Popular Science, December 2003 issue; Robin J. Moody, The Business Journal of Portland, November 14, 2003; The Journal of Trauma, Volume 54, Issue 1, pages 177-182, January 2003