Whether it’s brought on by a bullet wound, a vehicle accident or some other form of trauma, severe blood loss can kill in just a few minutes. Even when medical professionals arrive on the scene quickly, keeping the victim alive long enough to reach a hospital in extreme cases is often difficult, if not impossible.
A small company called Suneris has developed VetiGel, a plant-based polymer that the founders say can stop bleeding of both skin and organ injuries in 20 seconds or less. While they’re still working on ways to simplify the application process, the gel essentially just needs to be spread on the wound, with no need for pressure. Co-founder and CEO, Joe Landolina, says his team's eventual goal is to make the product as easy to use as an EpiPen.
Of course, there are competing products aiming to quickly stop blood loss, including QuickClot, which works by absorbing water, thus concentrating coagulants, and Xstat, which is made up of pill-sized sponges. But Landolina says most of these products either take minutes to stop blood flow or require pressure to be applied while the clot forms.
VetiGel is different in that it’s formed from plant cell wall polymers that, according to the company, form a mesh when exposed to blood or tissue. The mesh quickly collects fibrin, a protein that’s key to the clotting of blood. And because it’s plant-based, the mesh can be left in the wound to be absorbed by the body as it heals.
“Other products are constrained to the geometry of wounds, meaning that certain products can only work on a bullet wound or on a specific type of wound,” says Landolina. “A gel like ours can work on anything. It will always trigger a durable clot and will always form without pressure.”
VetiGel isn’t yet approved for human use. But Landolina says that his company is researching and developing the gel at its manufacturing facility in Brooklyn, while releasing it for use in a few veterinary clinics to get feedback and further tweak the product.
At the moment, the main goal is to make sure VetiGel works well for common veterinary procedures, to give it a wide appeal. But Landolina and his team are also getting feedback from vets about specific procedures, some of which can’t currently be done safely because of fear of blood loss. An in-house design engineer tailors syringe tips to fit those needs.
“We can have a tip that’s designed specifically to work on neural tissue, or a tip that is specifically made for the extraction of teeth in animals,” says Landolina. “All of these are awesome ideas that came out of working with veterinarians that have been confronted with these problems without solutions.”
While the idea for VetiGel came to Landolina about four years ago, when he was a freshman at New York University, it was earlier life experiences that set him on the path to the gel’s discovery. His grandfather was a wine maker who worked in a chemistry lab, and every day after school, since about the age of 11, Landolina says he would go there to learn and experiment.
“My mom would always tell me to work with safer chemicals,” says Landolina, “which meant that I had to work with plants and plant extracts. I spent a lot of time just playing around and mixing things.” In that time, he says he stumbled on a material that reacted in visual and physical ways when placed next to animal tissue. “That initial spark,” says Landolina, “sent me down the research path to find what became the underlying technology that we have today.”
While this sounds immensely promising for the field of wound treatment, very little information about VetiGel is available outside Suneris’ website and various news stories about the technology. Landolina and Suneris, a private company, are keeping many details about the material from the public for now, to safeguard their intellectual property. He says they have been working with outside researchers to validate the company’s claims.
But that will likely change soon, as more veterinarians use the gel and the company works toward human trials, which could come as early as late 2015. The Department of Defense has shown interest in VetiGel for treating wounded soldiers in the field. The gel will likely land there and with trauma doctors before seeing any wide-scale approval. But Landolina hopes it will one day be found in ambulances, even purses.
“In the coming months, our focus is to begin publishing,” says Landolina. “We’ve finally gotten to a point where we’re comfortable, and now it’s about getting everything we have peer reviewed and open, so that we can not only build up a commercial case for the product, but also a scientific case.”