Medics May Be Able to Save Soldiers by Injecting Foam Into Gut Wounds

Internal bleeding on the battlefield proves deadly for soldiers hit by bullets or shrapnel, but a foam injected into soldiers’ abdomens could save lives

An illustration of the potential new treatment.
An illustration of the potential new treatment. DARPA

Internal bleeding on the battlefield often proves deadly for soldiers hit by bullets or shrapnel. But the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has just announced a new type of injectable foam that could save lives by molding to organs to stop hemorrhaging, Scientific American reports. If trials work out, field medics could use the foam as a way to buy time for soldiers on their way to medical facilities.

Like epoxy glue, the foam requires two different liquids to be stored separately and mixed together through an injection. When the polyurethane foam enters the abdominal cavity, the mixture expands around 30 times its original size and hardens into a solid. It acts to seal wounded tissues, which stops the bleeding. Doctors at medical facilities can remove the foamy mass and perform surgery to permanently fix the battlefield damage.

“We’ve been waiting for this,” says Donald Jenkins, trauma director at Saint Mary’s Hospital in Rochester, Minn., and a 24-year Air Force veteran who has spent more than 700 days in combat zones, including in Afghanistan and Iraq. When asked how often he has seen soldiers suffer from abdominal hemorrhaging caused by explosives or gunshot wounds, he pauses and says, “Too many times.”

While the foam has much potential, it still needs to undergo further testing and work before it’s introduced into medics’ kits. For example, the expanding material often causes bruising, and it also heats up as it changes from a liquid to a solid to the level of a high-grade fever. Researchers also fear that pieces of the foam could break off in a patient’s body and clog up blood flow, though so far this hasn’t happened in tests with pigs.

Nevertheless, Jenkins sees some promise in this new approach to a common problem for field medics, and perhaps first-responders in remote rural areas. “If half the deaths on the battlefield are torso hemorrhaging, and you were able to save 10 percent, would the survivors say it’s worth ?” he asked. “I’d say yes.”

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