Local News

Duke, Durham EMS Looks At Experimental Blood Substitute

Posted November 8, 2004

— Many ambulance calls are a race against time. Following major car accidents or shootings, a patient can bleed to death before making it to the hospital. Some paramedics in Durham County believe an experimental blood substitute called

PolyHeme

may help save lives.

"It can really be lifesaving out in the field," said Mike Smith, of Durham County EMS. "It has a short shelf life. It's doesn't last a long time whereas PolyHeme lasts up to 12 months."

Right now, ambulances do not carry whole blood because it can spoil quickly. PolyHeme is made of hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying component of blood. It is taken from expired human blood that has been filtered and treated. The final product is compatible with all blood types.

Duke University wants to use synthethic blood on a trial basis over the next year.

The trial will only affect people transported by ambulance, not Lifeflight. Children, pregnant women and head trauma victims will not get the synthetic blood.

A 1996 Food and Drug Administration ruling eliminates the need for patient consent in specific trials that involve emergency situations and life-saving techniques.

"Trials like this need to be undertaken with the most scrupulous care," said Nancy King, ethics professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Since announcing the study in May, Duke University has held four public hearings. King has concerns when it comes to community consent.

"Who is the community? Well, it's the community who might be research subjects and then you have to figure out what does that mean and how wide is the net cast," King said.

The Durham County Board of Commissioners is expected to vote on the experiment Monday. In addition to the Board of Commissioners' approval, the trial requires the OK from Duke's Institutional Review Board. If both groups give the go-ahead, the study could start after the first of the year. People who do not want to participate can register on a "do not test" list with the university.

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