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Injectable Goo Developed In Seattle Could Help Stop Trauma Patients From Bleeding To Death

William Walker
University of Washington, Dept. of Bioengineering
PolySTAT, created by UW bioengineers, reinforces the natural proteins of a forming blood clot.

Seattle-based researchers have developed a synthetic substance that might help prevent some severely injured people from bleeding to death. The injectable polymer is designed to make blood clots stronger, forming a kind of bandage that can stem or stop bleeding, even from internal wounds. Blood loss is the second leading cause of deathfollowing a trauma, such as a crash or gunshot.

Prof. Nathan White of UW Medicine, who also treats trauma patients at Harborview Medical Center, said someday first responders could be injecting the polymer into patients out in the field.

“It essentially does the job itself. It seeks out that wound, strengthens the clot internally, and slows down or stops the bleeding,” he said.

The polymer has little loop-shaped molecular features that find and grab on to the fiber-like proteins of blood clots as they are forming. The polymer then cross-stiches those fibers together, like thread on a loom, to make a much stronger clot that can patch up the wound.

“The clot that’s forming is a matrix and this comes in and integrates into it,” said Suzie Pun, professor of bioengineering at the University of Washington.  “It forms a hybrid, so the clot then becomes part polymer, part natural protein clot.”

The substance, called PolySTAT, has worked well in rats. In a new study published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, PolySTAT reduced bleeding in the rats by more than 90 percent.

One possible risk in humans is that the polymer could cause blood clots in areas where there’s no wound, which could block healthy blood flow and have serious effects. Nathan White said researchers have seen no evidence of that happening yet, but PolySTAT still has to be tested in larger animals before it can go into human trials. White estimated it could be another 5-10 years before the polymer comes into clinical use.

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.