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in 2013 and beyond.
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happy and prosperous year ahead.
celebrating 20 years
22 January 31, 2013
YOU are serving on a mili-
tary operation overseas
and you’ve just been badly
wounded. You hear muffled
voices trying to stem the blood loss
before a doctor makes the call for an
urgent platelet transfusion.
Platelets are blood cells required to
stop bleeding and platelet transfusion
can be lifesaving.
Your only hope is with cryo-
preserved (frozen) platelets, produced
and stored using techniques yet to be
approved for widespread civilian use.
This scenario has been very real for
Australian, Dutch and coalition person-
nel in Afghanistan since 2006, where
frozen platelets have been used with very
Why use frozen?
The five-day shelf life of convention-
al platelets means they are usually only
available in major urban civilian hos-
pitals, which has prompted Australia’s
first clinical trial of frozen platelets for
An initial pilot study involving 90
patients in civilian hospitals will be
conducted by a team led by the Defence
Professor of Military Medicine and
Surgery at the University of Queensland,
LTCOL Michael Reade. It is hoped this
will pave the way for a larger, conclu-
sive study that will provide sufficient
evidence for the Therapeutic Goods
Administration to assess.
America is trialling a similar technol-
ogy in a different patient group, and the
results of both studies will be analysed.
LTCOL Reade, a specialist intensive
care physician with a raft of experience
in military and civilian hospitals as a
reservist before being appointed to his
current full-time military position, said
the US Navy first developed the method
to freeze platelets, subsequently refined
by the Netherlands blood bank, which
allows storage wherever needed, includ-
ing deployed ADF hospitals.
“However, there is insufficient clini-
cal trial evidence for widespread use,
so in collaboration with the Australian
Red Cross Blood Service and the
Australian and New Zealand College of
An ADF surgeon leads the research effort on
frozen blood, Michael Weaver reports.
Anthony Holley and
Reade are performing
a pilot study on
frozen platelets after
Photo: Tim Asher
Anaesthetists, the ADF clinical trial, if
successful, will be pivotal in the world-
wide introduction of this lifesaving tech-
nology,” LTCOL Reade said.
Normal freezing methods destroy
the clotting function of platelets, while
studies have shown that up to 80 per
cent function is retained using a protec-
tive, but toxic, chemical called dimethyl
LTCOL Reade found out about the
technology while deployed in 2009 as
the clinical director of the NATO
military hospital in Tarin Kot, where it
was being used by the Dutch.
A Navy Reserve colleague at the
Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital,
CMDR Anthony Holley, travelled to
the Netherlands as part of a specialist
Defence working team and established
a close working relationship with the
Dutch military blood bank. “We are
now both working very closely with the
Australian Red Cross Blood Service,
which has researched and further devel-
oped the Dutch technology,” LTCOL
A small trial of cryo-preserved plate-
lets by the US Navy compared the out-
comes of patients given fresh platelets
with those who received thawed frozen
platelets during heart surgery. It found
frozen platelets were better at reducing
bleeding and reduced the amount of
blood transfusions required.
“Up until now, there’s been a focus
on short-term outcomes to transfusion
products, where people have thought that
if something seems to work and the lab
tests you do on patients are encouraging,
then that’s probably good enough.
“There’s been a movement around
the world that some of the subtle effects
of transfusions aren’t apparent when
assessed that way, so studies of a few
hundred or even a few thousand patients
are required to demonstrate things are
truly as effective and safe as they seem
“It’s that kind of trial we are going to
“If the results show what we think
they will, this technology can be used
everywhere that Defence provides a
deployed surgical capability, be it on
operations in a combat environment, in
a humanitarian assistance role, or even
during a major exercise where we set up
a field hospital.”
The pilot study will be completed by
February 2014, with final results of the
trial expected in 2016-17.
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