When the United States went to war in Iraq and Afghanistan in the early 2000s, the gauze that was used to stanch the bleeding of wounded soldiers was so primitive, it could have come out of a Civil War medic’s kit. Uncontrolled bleeding is still a leading cause of combat death (it also kills thousands of American civilians every year), but bandages and other devices now in development could change that.
In collaboration with civilian scientists, the Army has in recent years begun seeking new ways to prevent blood loss in the immediate aftermath of an injury. As a result, soldiers and medics now carry bandages coated with clotting agents, and new, tourniquet-like devices have been developed for the groin, armpit, and abdomen (traditional tourniquets work only on extremities). A team at MIT is developing a bandage that, by exploiting a natural coagulant, promises to stop bleeding in less than a minute, and a company in nearby Boston is developing a foam that would fill a person’s entire abdominal cavity, providing enough pressure to control internal bleeding.
Another company, RevMedx, has come up with the XStat , which was inspired by a pop-up kitchen sponge. The syringe-style applicator can inject dozens of pill-size sponges into difficult-to-treat injuries at the groin or shoulder—areas body armor does not protect—including wounds too narrow to pack with gauze. Upon touching blood, the sponges expand to fill the wound, compressing it internally.
Although many of these new blood stanchers were made for soldiers, the hope is that they’ll benefit others, too. “From a strictly numbers point of view,” says John Holcomb, a trauma surgeon and the former commander of the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research, “there are a lot more civilians bleeding every day.”