August 28, 2007

'Medical textile' with military applications in offing

A "medical textile" that uses shrimp shells to promote rapid blood clotting and has military applications is being developed by a research body here.

The research done by the Ahmedabad Textile Industry's Research Association (ATIRA) could prove to be a boon for the military, as more than half of all combat deaths are caused by blood loss. The US Army currently uses similar shrimp-derived trauma dressing bandages in Iraq.

Mohammed S Rahman, ATIRA's assistant director, said, "The shells of shrimp are a waste material of the seafood industry but they are one of the best sources of chitin. When chitin is purified, we get chitosan which has wide usage in the pharmaceutical field.

"In India there are some companies that can develop chitin. But at ATIRA, we have developed a chemical process by which chitin can be purified and turned into chitosan," Rahman said.

Chitosan is a very effective "haemostatic" or blood clotting agent and accelerates wound healing. "Oozing of blood from minor cuts stops immediately when chitosan is applied and it also heals the wound quickly," he said.

ATIRA has entered into an agreement with Ahmedabad-based pharmaceutical company Meck Pharmaceutical and Chemicals for commercial production of chitosan-based products in India.

"Once it is commercially produced, we can work on the development of a 'medical textile' by using the material," Rahman said.

The US Army is using bandages made of chitosan in Iraq as they have the capacity to help clotting in bullet wounds in two to five minutes, he said.

Clinical trials on chitosan's dental applications have also been conducted in the US. Chitosan-based bandages stopped bleeding after tooth extractions in two minutes or less, in comparision to 10 to 15 minutes for other medication, Rahman said.

"The quality of chitin and chitosan is of prime importance for its use in the pharmaceutical field. India has a very long coastline and its shrimp production is nearly four lakh metric tonnes and this ensures the availability of shrimp shells," he remarked.

Experts did not rule out possibility of developing bandages with chitosan that can help rapid clotting of blood and can be used for high-risk medical procedures.

ATIRA has not yet approached the Indian Army with its research. "Our research is open to all. We want this thing to be used commercially. If the army finds this to be useful it can also approach us," said Rahman, who has designed clothing that can protect soldiers in the event of chemical warfare.

Apart from pharmaceutical uses, chitosan has cosmetic and agricultural uses. Chitosan can also be used to treat osteo-arthritis and joint pain, Rahman said.

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