July 25, 2014

UI med researchers look to save soldiers’ lives with nanotechnology

Researchers at the University of Iowa are studying new treatments to help heal soldiers who are wounded on the battlefield. Dr. Randy Kardon, a U-of-I professor of ophthalmology, says they’re focused on getting more immediate care to stop the bleeding in troops who have specifically been wounded in explosions.

“It would involve injecting a substance into the bloodstream,” Dr. Kardon says. “It would home to small areas in the circulation that have been disrupted from trauma to the brain that are causing micro-areas of bleeding in the brain and to other areas of the body.”

Kardon is director of the Iowa City Center of Excellence for the Prevention and Treatment of Visual Loss. When a fired rocket, shell or bomb explodes, there can be significant damage to the body from shrapnel and flying debris, but Kardon says just being near the concussion of air in an explosion can bring serious or deadly injury.

“When a blast occurs, there’s a wave of pressure that goes through the body, not just the head but the rest of the body,” Kardon says. “That is a wave of energy that puts pressure internally on different organs, it can disrupt the structure of those organs to cause these micro-bleeding sites and further damage to the structures.”

The U-of-I researchers are working with what are called nanoparticles that could be injected by a first-responder medic. Kardon says those particles are incredibly small.

“These are particles that are microns in size, so you can’t see them with a naked eye,” he says. “They’re a thousandth of a millimeter. They’re engineered at a ultra-microscopic level and certain substances are engineered to attach to them so they can be delivered to the right site.”

The team is trying to determine whether the slow release of steroids from the nanoparticle might also improve the outcomes. The U-of-I research project recently received a $1-million dollar grant from the Department of Defense.