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Photo: Chemist Nicolette Prevost coating cotton fabric with chemical treatment. Link to photo information
A new treatment can give cotton the ability to help clot blood and fight bacteria. Click the image for more information about it.

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Cotton: A Body Armor for Wounds?

By Don Comis
February 27, 2008

Cotton fabrics that might save lives on the battlefield—and make people more comfortable in hospital beds—are being developed by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists.

ARS chemist J. Vincent Edwards at the ARS Southern Regional Research Center in New Orleans, La., is testing specially-treated cotton fabrics that might someday be made into military uniforms and gauze pads that can staunch bleeding, prevent infections and promote healing. His fabrics can also be made into hospital sheets that are highly absorbent, smooth, soft and antibacterial, to treat or even prevent bed sores.

To impart antibacterial and blood-clotting properties, Edwards uses chitosan, a carbohydrate in shrimp shells. He has developed a technique to more uniformly distribute the chitosan in cotton fabric, compared with the chitosan-treated cotton gauze pads currently on the market. This innovation should lead to more effective cotton wound dressings and improved high-tech military clothing.

The work builds on Edwards' previous invention of a treated cotton gauze pad that also promotes healing—even of deep and painful bed sores. Paradoxically, although the body rushes protease enzymes to such wound sites to promote healing, sending too many of them can create excess inflammation and actually prevent healing. Edwards achieved the healing effect by treating gauze pads with negatively charged phosphoric acid, which pulls positively charged excess proteases out of a wound. His research has shown that the improved gauze dressings may also attract protein-building macrophages necessary for skin to heal.

Tissue Technologies of Richmond, Va., has the licensing rights to the ARS-patented, protease-absorbing technology and has sublicensed it to a manufacturer and marketer. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the gauze bandage in 2006.

Read more about the research in the February 2008 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.