Blood Quest

Current operations have seen advances in battlefield medicine. Mortality rates are down, despite the traumatic injuries sustained. But more can be done to improve survivability.

Army, Navy, and Air Force and private sector researchers are working on a blood substitute that can be used on the front lines at home or abroad. Actually, they have been working on it for some time, but positive results have been elusive.

Artificial blood, when contrasted with the real thing, has a longer shelf life, can fill in for any blood type, can be sterilized, and does not need to be refrigerated, making it great for a combat environment. The synthetic blood carries more oxygen. During a major surgery when blood is circulated by machines, it can help transport additional oxygen through the body, helping prevent organ damage.

But the FDA has not been impressed and has put a stop to the blood substitute testing on humans. Research continues with animals such as pigs. The Air Force is involved in the latest study in San Antonio. 

In May 2008, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study that gave the sobering statistics: those who had been given a blood substitute faced a 30-percent increase in the risk of death and nearly a threefold increase in the risk of heart attack.

The FDA asked the Navy Medical Research Center in Silver Spring, Md., to delay its clinical study. The product slated for the trial, Biopure, had been approved for use on humans in South Africa in 2001, but the government withdrew its approval in late 2008. 

The idea of artificial blood goes back a few years. Testing on a blood substitute was done in 1998 at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. More interesting, the paper, “Procurement and the Use of Blood Substitutes in the Army,” was presented before the American Surgical Society in Cleveland, Ohio, April 6–8, 1942.

Is the Red Cross slogan accurate: There is no substitute for blood?

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