Following a severe injury, uncontrolled blood loss often leads to life-threatening complications. But a new study from the University of Pittsburgh shows that two units of plasma—a yellowish liquid that helps blood clot—given during air transport to the hospital could increase the odds of survival by 10 percent for traumatically injured patients with severe bleeding, according to the results of a national clinical trial published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Researchers from nine trauma centers across the country enrolled 501 participants who had suffered a severe injury, such as a car crash or fall from a height, and were taken to the hospital by air medical transport. Patients were randomly assigned to receive either two units of blood plasma during the flight plus standard care or standard care alone. After 30 days, 76.8 percent of the patients who received plasma were still alive, compared with 67 percent of those who received standard care. Additionally, patients who received plasma had faster blood clotting and less need for blood transfusions.
“These results have the power to significantly alter trauma resuscitation, and their importance to the trauma community cannot be overstated,” said co-lead author Jason Sperry, MD, MPH, professor in the departments of Surgery and Critical Care Medicine in Pitt’s School of Medicine. “This is the first trial in a quarter century to have the potential to alter prehospital care so considerably.”
While the results are a huge step forward, plasma’s short shelf life may be a logistical challenge. Plasma can last up to a year when frozen, but the thawed plasma used in the study only lasts five days. However, plasma that has never been frozen has a shelf life of 30 days, and freeze-dried plasma—which is approved for use in Europe but not yet the United States—can last much longer. “Using thawed plasma, like we did in our trial, may not be feasible for all trauma centers,” said Sperry. “But there are alternatives available or that are being approved by regulators soon that can extend the exciting results of our trial to more traumatically injured patients, potentially saving hundreds of lives every year.”
Interested in research studies related to this topic? Visit the Pitt+Me Injuries and Injury Prevention page.