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Published on Aug 1, 2014
SAN ANTONIO -- It's the picture seen around the world: a critically wounded Army Ranger, saluting his senior officers in his hospital bed in Afghanistan, while being decorated with a Purple Heart. However, that moment may not have happened, if it wasn't for a precious powder.
"This is human plasma that has had all the water sucked out in the freeze drying process," explained Lt. Col. Andrew Cap, who is the Chief of Coagulation and Blood Research.
That freeze-dried plasma helped save Cpl. Josh Hargis' life. By adding water and swirling the mixture around, you have a product ready to transfuse in three minutes. The plasma contains proteins which make the blood clot and stop the bleeding. The freeze-dried version is now in use in dangerous special ops missions.
"They can put it in their backpack and carry it with them and be able to deliver that life-saving care far from a hospital. Otherwise, they'd have to wait, and if that wait is hours to a day, that could be too long," Cap said.
The French call the product French Lyophilized Plasma, or FLYP. The U.S. Army is using it through a unique, international partnership.
"So, we worked with the French military and the FDA to be able to field the French FDA-approved product, so approved by the French regulatory authorities, the product that their military uses for their combat casualties in our special operations forces," he said. "We did this under what's called an Expanded Access Investigational New Drug protocol, that's supervised by the FDA and the military Institutional Review Board."
The French military manufactures the product on a relatively limited basis, so the Army Blood Program and Institute of Surgical Research are now expanding the program. Soon, American plasma, collected at U.S. Military blood donor centers, will be shipped to France. There, it will be freeze dried and then shipped back to America. The plasma is universal, meaning compatible with any blood type, and it is able to withstand warm temperatures for long periods of time.
"The French military has been making this product, basically since the 1940s with technology they got from us and have since modified and improved," he said. "The United States developed freeze-dried plasma for WWII and we used it all through WWII and the Korean War but at that time, we didn't understand a lot about blood-borne infections, and patients would get hepatitis from the plasma they were given. So we stopped making this product."
Each use of the freeze-dried blood is meticulously documented and monitored. The FDA would have to approve its use before it could be more widely used by the military.