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SINGAPORE – A team from Singapore has managed to extend the shelf life of platelets – a component in blood that prevents and stops bleeding – from one week to two years.
This breakthrough could make a life-or-death difference for injured soldiers who are bleeding excessively in the battlefield as well as civilians in medical emergencies.
This process was previously challenging because platelets could be stored for only a week, unlike red blood cells that have a shelf life of six weeks and can be frozen for up to 10 years.
After years of research, a team comprising staff from the Army Medical Service, DSO National Laboratories, the Health Sciences Authority and Singapore General Hospital (SGH) has come up with a way to freeze platelets for two years before using them.
On Thursday, the team was among 10 winners of the annual Defence Technology Prize (DTP), given to those who have made significant contributions to the defence capabilities of Singapore.
In a speech during the prize presentation ceremony held at the Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) auditorium, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen brought up the team’s innovation as one that could make a difference.
Citing the example of a dengue outbreak, he said it would mitigate the need for donors to constantly give blood to help afflicted individuals who have lower platelet counts.
He added: “The Singapore Armed Forces and defence technology community must help Singapore and Singaporeans weather the storms ahead.
“When the going gets tough, it will be qualities such as boldness, innovativeness, persistence, resolute, calm, and a warrior spirit that will help people overcome any challenge. And these qualities are exemplified by our DTP award winners today.”
Major (Dr) Jasper Wang, 31, who is part of the team, said the research process took about five to six years and culminated in clinical trials where 18 patients from SGH with low platelet counts received transfusions.
The frozen platelets were found to be just as effective, paving the way for their usage in military operations and humanitarian aid missions.
“We have a small national population, so we need to make every drop of donated blood count,” said Maj Wang. “With a frozen stock of platelets on standby, it allows us to be resilient to cyclical changes in demand.”
Another recipient of the DTP was the team behind the next-generation command and control information system (CCIS) used by the army. The software engine uses real-time data to help commanders coordinate troops on the ground, with algorithms performing a multitude of tasks, including terrain analysis, said team lead Brendan Tan, who heads capability development for tactical command, control, communications, computers and intelligence at the DSTA Land Systems Programme Centre.
The CCIS is already in use by several army units and will be rolled out to other units in the future, marking a transition from traditional, time-consuming methods of mission planning such as sand models, which are used to mimic actual terrain conditions and strategise tactics.
“Rather than making on-the-ground decision-making redundant, I would say that the CCIS supports ground forces in relaying relevant information from disparate sources for more effective decision-making,” said the 37-year-old.