SEPTEMBER 15, 2004

Aloe quickens circulation and slows death after blood loss

Rat study shows it could help trauma victims squeak by

Beneath greying dreadlocks, 50-year-old Lily Heppner's cheerful sunburnt face glistened with a slick covering of aloe vera gel as she expounded upon the virtues of the slimy goo inside the leaves of these remarkable plants. "Aloe vera has been touted for its therapeutic properties for thousands of years," she said. But the plant is only now receiving recognition from the established medical community as a potential lifesaver. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh's McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine reported in the August issue of Shock that the use of an aloe vera-based resuscitation fluid improved the survival rate of rats following massive blood loss.

The drastic fall in blood pressure that follows severe blood loss can be lethal. The research holds out hope that soldiers in the battlefield the focus of the project as well as trauma victims might be stabilized long enough to get lifesaving medical attention. Rats in the study were bled for 25 minutes. The considerable (2.45mL/100g) or severe (3.15mL/100g) blood loss conditions induced hemorrhagic shock. Five minutes after bleeding was started, rats were resuscitated with an injection of saline or of saline containing the aloe vera fluid. In addition, some rats that underwent severe blood loss received no fluid at all.

When bleeding was merely considerable but not severe, five of 10 rats receiving saline survived for four hours. However, eight of 10 rats receiving the aloe vera fluid survived. Similarly, this treatment also boosted survival after severe blood loss. In this case, five of 15 rats given the aloe vera treatment survived for two hours, whereas one solitary rat of the 14 who were resuscitated with pure saline lived for two hours. Those unfortunates who did not receive any fluid died within 35 minutes.

The protection from the aloe vera goo likely rests with its ability to cut down on turbulence and help blood flow in a smoother, more orderly way, according to lead author Dr Mitchell Fink. "We think the polymer reduces the [turbulence] associated with moving blood through the microvasculature. Thus, despite inadequate circulating volume, the blood can more effectively deliver oxygen to the tissues," he said.

Unfortunately, the way aloe vera protects also involves potential risks. The reduced turbulence could translate into decreased blood coagulation although Dr Fink maintained that "limited experiments suggest that excessive bleeding is not likely to be an issue." Nonetheless, "questions related to potential toxicity will need to be carefully addressed using very formalized toxicity testing protocols," said Dr Fink. "In addition, the exact composition of the polymer will need to be established in order to guarantee that composition remains constant from batch to batch." Only then can human tests be done.

The research was undertaken to develop a small volume resuscitation fluid for use in the battlefield to, in Dr Fink's words, "buy an hour or two for an injured soldier or other trauma victims" when conventional treatment is impossible. Other possible applications might one day include stroke, myocardial infarction and peripheral vascular disease.



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