Combat medics could save U.S. soldiers from bleeding to death on future battlefields by injecting special foam into their bodies.
The foam has proven capable of stopping bleeding for up to an hour when placed inside the abdominal cavities of pigs, according to the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Such early promise could pave the way for saving U.S. soldiers from internal bleeding — considered the leading cause of potentially survivable deaths on the battlefield — until they can reach a hospital for surgery.
"If testing bears out, the foam technology could affect up to 50 percent of potentially survivable battlefield wounds," said Brian Holloway, DARPA program manager.
The Pentagon agency has awarded $15.5 million to Arsenal Medical, Inc. to continue developing the medical foam after the success of the preclinical testing. That funding comes through the DARPA Wound Stasis program that began in 2010.
A combat medic using the foam would inject two liquids, a polyol phase and an isocyanate phase, into a wounded warrior's abdominal cavity. Mixing the liquids triggers a chemical reaction that expands the foam to 30 times its original size and solidifies the mixture, so that the foam ends up encasing parts of the bowels, spleen and liver. [ Quiz: Sci-Fi vs. Real Technology ]
Testing showed that a surgeon could remove the foam's single solid shape in less than one minute using his or her hands. Very little of the foam remained in the abdominal cavity of the pigs, which were standing in for humans.
"Currently, there are no effective, pre-hospital treatments available for intra-abdominal bleeding on the battlefield," said David King, MD, a trauma surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital. "Our ultimate goal is to find innovative ways to improve treatment and save lives of those who are serving their country, as well as those who experience serious injury through trauma."
King gave the presentation on the foam treatment's preclinical results at the 2012 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Surgery of Trauma in Kauai, Hawaii.
DARPA aims to develop the foam up until it gets regulatory approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a medical treatment. The foam could prove especially lifesaving for U.S. troops on frontline bases or patrols, as well as special operations units such as the U.S. Navy's Seal Team Six during dangerous missions behind enemy lines.
Arsenal Medical also aims to develop the foam for use in civilian care, perhaps as a tool for emergency responders. But Arsenal's news release still acknowledged their primary motivation was a lifesaving treatment for U.S. military members.
"There can be no more important goal for all of us who work in healthcare than to save lives," said James Barry, executive vice president and CEO of Arsenal. "And working to help save the lives of our soldiers is exceptionally motivating."