Battlefield injuries are often catastrophic. In fact, blood loss is the leading cause of death in combat, according to a U.S. Army report. Hemorrhage is also a factor in the civilian world, when emergency responders are called to deal with crises such as gunshot wounds, major trauma and severed arteries. Traditional methods for halting blood flow such as direct pressure, packing with gauze and even tourniquets may not be enough to stem blood flow.
In these scenarios, the difference between life and death can literally be a matter of minutes — and finding a more effective way to stop blood loss. Today, advances in wound dressing that started on the battlefield are helping to save lives domestically, and chitosan is playing a key role.
New uses for a time-tested treatment
Chitosan is a biodegradable, biocompatible polymer generated by treating crustacean shells with an alkaline substance. It is naturally antimicrobial and has properties that promote clotting. Legend has it the ancient Chinese packed wounds with crushed crab shells in order to stem bleeding. However, modern medicine is refining the use of chitosan in wound treatment.
The military began experimenting with chitosan-treated dressings more than a decade ago. Field medics reported bandages made with chitosan stopped bleeding faster, and bought battle-wounded soldiers precious time until they could be transported to medical facilities. Further, research has found chitosan-treated bandages not only stop blood flow twice as fast as the natural clotting process, they also promote faster healing. One study concluded chitosan-treated bandages could even speed healing of infected wounds.
Researchers at the University of Bolton say they are now working on a type of chitosan-based bandage that will dissolve over time as it’s exposed to a patient’s sweat. The bandage, created by pairing chitosan with aglinate, an absorbent gel commonly used in wound dressings, will deliver chitosan’s anitmicrobial and clotting advantages while eliminating the need for sometimes painful bandage removal, researchers say.
Late last year, the FDA approved another type of wound treatment that incorporates the healing power of chitosan. The syringe-like device injects tiny, super-absorbent sponges coated in chitosan into life-threatening wounds such as deep stabs or gunshots, Tech Insider reported. The chitosan contributes its antimicrobial and clotting properties to the treatment, which can halt catastrophic bleeding in 20 seconds or less. Like chitosan-treated bandages, the device was first approved for use by the military in battlefield situations.
Research and real-world performance indicate chitosan-based wound treatment is nothing short of revolutionary in its ability to halt blood loss from life-threatening wounds and promote faster, infection-free healing.