Neuroscientist Rutledge Ellis-Behnke made a curious discovery last March while he and researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology operated on the severed brain of a hamster. The liquid material they applied to the wound stopped bleeding in seconds. "And when we saw that we thought: Oh, whenever you do neurosurgery at all in the brain and all the bleeding stops you are concerned that the animal has died because that is typically the only cause for the bleeding to stop that quickly."
The animal wasn't dead. Its wound healed, which prompted the scientists at MIT and their colleagues at Hong Kong University to do more experiments. "We tested it in the brain, the liver, the muscle, spinal cord, liver and skin punch to look to see if it would work for skin as well," he says. "What we found was that the tissue healed completely normally, and the material completely disappeared within three to four weeks, depending on the concentration of it."
The novel therapy stopped bleeding without such conventional means as use of pressure, cauterization or adhesives. Instead, the material itself, which is comprised of tiny protein fragments, self-assembled into fibers when applied as a liquid to a tissue in a salty environment like blood.
Ellis-Behnke says the process is not clotting but more a knitting or weaving of the cells. "When you look at some of the other hemostatic agents out there, they are not designed to allow the tissue to reconstitute itself. They are designed to just stop bleeding."
Ellis-Behnke says the body looks at the reconstituted patch as if it were normal tissue. "We're not sure if it is just a physical patch or it is a completely new way to stop bleeding. We are still trying to understand that."
Ellis-Behnke and researchers have already initiated tests in larger mammals with hopes to begin human trials within a few years. Ellis-Behnke says the material could be of great value for surgery done in messy environments like a battlefield. The study was published this week in the online edition of the journal Nanomedicine.