WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The aloe vera plant could provide a fluid to help keep alive trauma victims such as battlefield casualties until they can get a blood transfusion, U.S. researchers said Monday.
Tests on rats show that the sticky fluid found inside the leaves of aloe vera can help preserve organ function after massive blood loss, the team at the University of Pittsburgh said. Writing in the journal Shock, they said just small injections of the substance helped counteract the more immediate deadly effects of blood loss.
"We hope this fluid will offer a viable solution to a significant problem, both on and off the battlefield," Dr. Mitchell Fink, a professor of critical care medicine who led the study, said in a statement.
"Soldiers wounded in combat often lose significant amounts of blood, and there is no practical way to replace the necessary amount of blood fast enough on the front lines. When this happens, there is inadequate perfusion of the organs which quickly leads to a cascade of life-threatening events," Fink added.
"Medics would need only to carry a small amount of this solution, which could feasibly be administered before the soldier is evacuated to a medical unit or facility," he added. The researchers, who got funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, tested the mucilage from inside aloe leaves. It is rich in sugar compounds called polysaccharides that affect the qualities of fluid.
"It may provide better diffusion of oxygen molecules from red blood cells to tissues because of its ability to better mix in the plasma surrounding red blood cells," said Marina Kameneva, an artificial blood expert who worked on the study.
They tested rats, injecting them either with the aloe derivative or salt solution after draining them of some blood.
Just half the 10 rats injected with saline survived, while eight of 10 rats that got aloe did.
In a second experiment involving more blood loss, five of 15 rats survived for two hours after getting aloe compared to one of 14 treated with saline solution alone. Seven animals receiving no treatment all died within 35 minutes.
Trauma is the leading cause of death for people under the age of 40 in the United States, killing 150,000 people a year. Loss of blood accounts for nearly almost half these deaths