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Field medics want to use a novel foam to seal off hemorrhaging organs, but safety concerns persist
Despite their best efforts to stabilize abdominal wounds sustained on the battlefield, military first-responders have few options when it comes to stanching internal bleeding caused by, for example, gunshots or explosive fragments. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) says it is studying a new type of injectable foam that molds to organs and slows hemorrhaging. This could provide field medics with a way to buy more time for soldiers en route to medical treatment facilities.
“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.”
The polyurethane foam begins as two liquids stored separately and injected together into the abdominal cavity. One liquid is a polyol, a type of alcohol. The other is made of isocyanates, a family of highly reactive chemicals widely used in the manufacture of flexible and rigid foams. Within about one minute after a medic inserts the liquids at the midline—near the belly button—the mixture expands to nearly 30 times its original volume and then turns solid. It slows or halts hemorrhaging by sealing wounded tissues. Once the patient can get to intensive care, doctors would remove the solid mass and then perform surgery to permanently stop any bleeding.
Jenkins points out another potential problem: Pieces of solidified foam could break off inside the body and go adrift in a patient’s bloodstream, eventually blocking blood flow to the legs or lungs. Sharma says the researchers have not seen any evidence of this happening, however.