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Can Plasma on MedEvac Helicopters Save Lives?

It is well known that uncontrolled bleeding can cause multiple organ failure and death.  It is also known that plasma reduces bleeding, so some are wondering if administering it early--while a patient is being transported to a hospital would lower mortality. 

That thought has prompted The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and UPMC to organize a four-year multi-center study of whether administering plasma to trauma victims on emergency helicopters will improve outcomes and save lives.

But it’s been difficult, said Dr. Jason Sperry of UPMC, to get plasma into a pre-hospital setting.  "Plasma, in its current form in the Blood Bank, is typically stored in a frozen form.  It needs to be thawed and typically cross-matched specific for each patient, just like blood."

MedEvac Helicopters will have thawed, universal donor plasma onboard for a month at a time at random intervals, according to Dr. Sperry, so outcomes can be compared.  Couriers will shuttle the plasma between blood banks and helicopter bases every four days because thawed plasma has a shelf life of five days, and Dr. Sperry said it's important not to waste such a rare and valuable resource.

The Dept. of Defense is funding the study with the belief that the results will be significant for military victims as well as civilians.  In addition to UPMC Presbyterian, five other medical centers in Tennessee, Texas, Ohio, and Kentucky will participate in the study.