The maker of a blood-clotting gauze now carried by every U.S. combat soldier and Marine is trying to break into the civilian medical market.
Z-Medica of Wallingford, Conn., introduced the QuikClot gauze in December 2007. Six months later, the military made the product a standard part of its battlefield kits. The Army Material Command named it one of the "Top 10 Greatest Inventions of 2008."
This week, Z-Medica officials came to San Diego for a national convention of ear, nose and throat doctors, hoping to convince these professionals that QuikClot would stop bleeding in tonsillectomy patients, for example.
They believe dermatologists, cardiologists and various surgeons would benefit from the gauze, which is already used by some police and fire departments. QuikClot also is sold at outdoor supply stores, having gained a niche following among hunters and anglers for their first-aid kits.
"We are trying to supply it to as many medical specialties as possible," said Dr. Giacomo Basadonna, Z-Medica's chief medical officer and a surgeon at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
Until the first hemostatic clotting agent was invented in 1997, old-fashioned cotton gauze offered the best and, really, the only way to pack an open wound.
Then the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq accelerated technological improvements to warp speed. Several companies created quick-acting hemostatic agents in powder form that could be poured into open wounds.
"There's been a huge interest in these things in the last several years," said Dr. Lawrence Heiskell, an emergency room physician and reserve police officer in Palm Springs. "Everybody's been trying to get into the market. There are millions of dollars in it."
The military adopted two of the products for battlefield use: Z-Medica's first-generation version of QuikClot and an item called HemCon. Both unquestionably saved lives, but Army medics and Navy corpsmen soon discovered drawbacks.
The mineral zeolite, the active ingredient in the original QuikClot, sometimes caused burns. HemCon, made of pulverized shrimp shells, became very sticky. And because both products were powders, they could become messy.
"It was like ground-up kitty litter," said Heiskell, who also is founder and CEO of the International School of Tactical Medicine. "You'd put it in a wound, but eventually it had to be cleaned out."
HemCon and Z-Medica decided to replace their powders with hemostatic bandages and gauze, which required minimal training for troops.
Z-Medica replaced zeolite with kaolin, a white clay used in ceramics, cosmetics, toothpaste and coated paper that also speeds clotting. Studies have shown that the kaolin-laced gauze stops bleeding faster than plain gauze, without side effects.
Through 2008, the federal government bought about $1.5 million worth of surgical dressings, field kits and other supplies from Z-Medica, according to the Web sit
The privately held company, which employed 27 people a year ago, has quadrupled its work force this year — partly in anticipation of expanding its civilian market.
If the effort succeeds, it would become part of the transformation of emergency medicine brought about by wartime research.
Into the early 1970s, essentially all medical advances in the trauma field grew out of war-zone lessons, said Dr. Michael Sise, chief of the trauma unit at Scripps Mercy Hospital in Hillcrest. Last year, he organized a conference to discuss the synergy between civilian and military trauma teams.
Widespread use of penicillin and blood transfusions started during World War II; mobile surgical hospitals and medical evacuation by helicopter came from the Korean War; and the creation of specialized trauma centers emerged from the Vietnam War.
Twenty-five years ago, a physician who served in Vietnam started the nation's first trauma network in San Diego County. The concept eventually spread across the country.