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Army-developed Bandage Stops Bleeding

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

SAN ANTONIO, Texas, Dec. 16, 1998 – If the fibrin bandage had been around during the Vietnam War, said Army Dr. (Lt. Col.) John Holcomb, there'd be 6,000 fewer names on the memorial wall in Washington.

Laboratory tests of the bandage have convinced Holcomb and others that the revolutionary dressing could prevent at least 20 percent of battlefield deaths attributed to bleeding.

Holcomb joined the Army-American Red Cross team developing the bandage in 1995. He'd just returned from combat duty in Somalia.

"I had guys who died because I couldn't stop their bleeding," Holcomb said. "Forty-nine percent of the soldiers who die on the battlefield die of hemorrhaging. Twenty percent of those deaths would possibly be preventable by newer methods of control. But we still use gauze sponges that the Roman Legion used thousands of years ago."

Distressed by his Somalia experience, Holcomb volunteered to help develop a better bandage. Today, he's readying the fibrin bandage for final testing and Federal Drug Administration licensing. As chief of military trauma research at the Institute of Surgical Research, Fort Sam Houston, he's leading laboratory tests of the bandage that he said stops bleeding in seconds.

This isn't your typical bandage. First off, it's stiff and brittle, like polystyrene. Second, each 4-inch-square dressing currently costs $1,000. The price likely will drop dramatically once mass production begins, Holcomb said.

The quarter-inch thick bandage contains fibrinogen and thrombin, the body's natural clotting proteins. The mixture is dried out and densely coated on an absorbent backing. Applied to a large open wound, the bandage softens and attaches itself to the wound, interacting with the body's blood and causing rapid coagulation.

"It's a very natural way of stopping bleeding," Holcomb said. "The same material could be used in its nonhardened state, as foam administered through an IV."

Holcomb said he foresees both field and surgical uses for the bandage. "Medics can carry fibrin glue bandages with them into battle and apply them to wounds," he said. In operating rooms, it could be used to stop severe bleeding, such as on the liver." You can leave the bandage inside, he said, because the body breaks it down and absorbs it over time.

The biggest customers probably will be emergency medical technicians and emergency rooms, Holcomb said. But first, the product must undergo human testing during clinical trials, which are prohibited in military hospitals because of patient consent requirements.

"Every trauma center in the country is interested in the bandage," Holcomb said. "We'll pick places that are busy, that get 500 to 600 patients a year." The FDA must approve the trials. Holcomb said he sees that happening within the next two years, with commercial development and licensing coming a few years later. He's enthusiastic, however, and believes the bandage will someday save lives.

"This is one of our top research priorities," he said. "I think it's going to work."

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