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There are a lot of ways to die from a traumatic injury, but many of them come down to this: So much blood spills out that your body just stops working. But now, an experimental "injectable bandage" material aims to slow that process in ways existing technologies can't.
What's the point of an injectable bandage? Existing approaches — such as regular bandages, tourniquets and applying pressure — can already slow a deadly bleed. But they all come with problems, including that the force used in these techniques may aggravate internal injuries acquired during the same trauma. And there's a limit to how much bleeding you can stop using just gauze and squeezing. But an injectable bandage, in theory, could enter the wound itself and conform to its shape, plugging up blood flow.
In a paper published Sunday (April 1) in the journal Acta Biomaterialia, a team of Texas A&M University researchers reported that they had successfully developed a so-called hydrogel that could do just that. It can also provide some bonus benefits, such as inducing blood-clotting, the researchers reported. The hydrogel, however, has been tested only in lab experiments so far, and more research is needed to see if it works in living, bleeding humans. [The 7 Biggest Mysteries of the Human Body]
Their material, which they pitched specifically as a solution to "battlefield wounds," is a mix of seaweed-derived kappa-carrageenan (a thick, organic mush used by, yes, pastry chefs) and ceramic molecules. The ceramic is the big innovation here, strengthening the bandage without making it less useful. The mixture, even loaded with ceramic, is porous enough to deliver medicines directly into an injury along with the bandage.
The material is designed to harden after being injected into a wound, and the authors reported that it could maintain much of its strength even after 72 hours in water. They also found that it stuck better to cells than pure kappa-carrageenan did, and caused "bovine blood," or cow blood, to clot in less than 6 minutes, rather than the usual 8.
It's worth noting that these researchers haven't field-tested their injectable bandage, and they aren't the first team to develop an injectable-bandage prototype. But their results offer tantalizing hints as to how the technology might evolve.