Plasma makes up more than half of a person's blood, and its clotting properties help stop bleeding — which is why medics carry the precious liquid, in frozen form, on the battlefield.
Frozen plasma needs to be kept cold, however, and lugging a freezer in combat isn't exactly practical. That's why the Defense Department is working on bringing freeze-dried plasma to the U.S.
This type of plasma doesn't need to be kept cold and is also more stable than frozen plasma. Since the Food and Drug Administration hasn't approved a U.S.-sourced product yet, the military is using French-manufactured freeze-dried plasma in a joint effort to bring the technique to the States.
And Air Force Special Operations Command is part of this effort.
Lt. Col. Rebecca Carter, chief of AFSOC's medical modernization, said the command will receive 25 units of the product from France under the FDA's Investigational New Drug protocol. This allows the Air Force to receive the product before it receives FDA approval.
The use of freeze-dried plasma, however, is not new.
"[The U.S.] used it in World War II," Carter said. "At the time, we did not have as reliable and accurate methods of donor screening for the blood supply," which increased the possibility of infection.
France received approval for freeze-dried plasma from its FDA equivalent in 1994, and now the United States is working on its own approval.
Once the AFSOC medical team receives its supply of French freeze-dried plasma this month, it will be ready to deploy when needed and used to treat special operations airmen on the battlefield, Carter said. The two main branches of the command's medical team are the operational medic support team and the special operations surgical team. They also support pararescuemen, Carter said.
Carter said each shipment of freeze-dried plasma is meant to support a single deployment cycle.
Frozen plasma must be thawed and warmed before it can be injected into a patient, she said. Frozen plasma can remain frozen for an extended period of time, but it cannot be thawed and then refrozen. Once thawed, the product starts to degrade rapidly.
With freeze-dried plasma, the water is removed and the product becomes a powder. This powder is reconstituted with sterile water and injected into the patient intravenously or via intraosseous infusion — directly into the bone.
The French product is contained in glass bottles, but Carter said the U.S. plans to hold its freeze-dried plasma in IV bags to make transporting them easier and safer.
"The French product is really a bridge product for special operations forces to get to the U.S.-sourced product," she said. "The larger [Defense Department] community has a team of research and development professionals that are supporting projects to ensure we do have U.S.-sourced [freeze-dried plasma]."
Carter said it will probably take up to five years before the U.S. has its own freeze-dried plasma product.
"Our job is to facilitate the fielding of the product throughout the Air Force," she said.
Army Special Operations Command was the first to use the French product in the United States, and now the Army Blood Program is seeking volunteers to donate plasma in the effort for U.S.-sourced freeze-dried plasma.
Charlsy Panzino covers the Guard and Reserve, training, technology, operations and features for Army Times and Air Force Times. Email her at email@example.com.