Since hemorrhage is the leading cause of preventable death in combat casualties, Air Force Special Operations Command is improving access to blood products on the battlefield.
Freeze-dried plasma is one of them.
Plasma contains coagulation factors, which are critical to the clotting process in the body. These need to be replaced during severe bleeding, said Lt. Col. Rebecca Carter, the AFSOC chief of medical modernization.
Normal blood is comprised of roughly 45 percent red blood cells, 50 percent plasma, and 5 percent white blood cells and platelets.
"The freeze-dried product is pathogen reduced and all white blood cells have been removed," Carter said. "This greatly reduces the chance of a transfusion or allergic reaction."
Carter said the typical plasma used in the U.S. doesn't work well in a deployed environment.
"This liquid product requires freezing. Once thawed, it has a dramatically shortened shelf life," she said. "The requirement to freeze and maintain this temperature makes the product impractical for battlefield use."
Carter said preparing freeze-dried plasma is easy and straight forward.
"The kit comes with the freeze-dried product and, separately, sterile water for injection," she said. "The medic takes the enclosed dual spike, inserts it into the sterile water and places the other end of the spike into the freeze-dried bottle while gently swirling. Then, the product will be available to infuse within three to five minutes."
Before use, plasma is screened for infectious diseases, to include hepatitis and HIV, among others, Carter said.
"Each medical provider will be fully trained to administer it," she said. "Personnel will decide if they wish to receive the product or not, if the circumstances happen to arise."
Freeze-dried plasma isn't brand new or experimental.
U.S. Army Special Operations Command was the first to deploy with freeze-dried plasma. Marine Special Operations Command and Navy Special Warfare Units are following suit, along with AFSOC.
The medical modernization team was crucial to this effort, said Col. Lee Harvis, the AFSOC command surgeon.
"They rapidly transform user needs from concept to development, equipping our medical personnel so they can provide the highest quality care under very austere conditions," he said. "The instant a gap is identified, they investigate ways to field solutions."
They strive for maximum utility with the smallest footprint, Harvis said.