Compared to previous American conflicts U.S. military medicine drastically reduced the number deaths due to injury during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But that success doesn't mean the profession is done innovating. Here are eight ways military medicine is trying to improve the ability to save lives:
1. Wound-stabilizing foam that reduces bleeding
Bleeding out is still the number one killer on the battlefield, according to the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research. So, DARPA has worked multiple programs to treat this major killer in combat.
One program success is ClotFoam. The foam works by seeking out damaged tissue, especially cut tissue fibers, and binding to it. It forms a scaffold that the body's natural clotting agents can then latch to as they would with a cotton bandage. Different formulations of ClotFoam have been tested with the best reducing blood loss in mice by 66 percent when compared to a control group. DARPA is now looking to test delivery mechanisms for ClotFoam.
Another DARPA project was originally aimed at studying and accelerating the clotting process, but a project participant created foam that could treat abdominal injuries on its own. Now, DARPA is seeking help testing the Wound Stasis System device and foam in FDA trials so it can be sent to combat medics as well as civilian EMTs. As seen in the video above, the foam fills the abdominal cavity, stops the internal bleeding, and can be quickly removed by surgeons when the patient arrives at the hospital.
2. Remote trauma care
Telemedicine is not a new concept. The civilian medical sector has been working on remote patient care since the late '70s, and many patients can now see their doctor via the internet when they can't come into the office. The Army is looking expand its remote medicine options, most notably in the area of medical evacuation.
The Army wants systems that can be mounted inside vehicles and hooked up to existing radios, allowing patient information to go directly to the doctor who will receive them at the hospital. The doctor will also be able to call to the medic, advising on treatment while the patient is evacuated off the battlefield. This could allow for better care for patients en route to the hospital as well as a smoother handoff between the medic and the doctor. Prototypes have already been tested.
3. A chair that monitors vitals
Of course, beaming the information from patients to doctors with telemedicine is great, but currently it would require a medic to speak or type the information into a computer. The Army is looking to take that task off medics' hands by adapting the LifeBed into a chair for military air and ground ambulances. The chair would track patients' respiratory and heart rates and alert a medic if they showed signs of trouble. The medic would be able to spend less time checking on already stable soldiers and more time treating new patients as they evacuate casualties.
4. Active bandages that reduce scaring and improve recovery
Navy researchers are looking at bandages that would actively assist in the recovery process. The bandages would contain antibiotics, growth factors, and other agents to reduce scar tissue formation, recovery time, and the chance of infection.
5. Reducing pressure ulcers
Pressure ulcers, more often known as bed sores, develop when skin is under pressure or rubbed for an extended period of time. Patients immobilized for transport will likely develop pressure ulcers if restrained against a hard surface like a backboard. The Army is beginning a study to see how to mitigate the infliction.
Service members evacuated from combat are commonly at risk for spinal damage, and so are often immobilized for transport. Understanding pressure ulcer formation will allow the military to reduce the number of ulcers that form and cut down on the resulting infections and discomfort.
6. Better treatments following shock from blood loss
The exact problem valproic acid therapy treats is kind of complicated, so bear with this very dumbed down explanation. There is a stage of treatment following major blood loss where the return of normal blood pressure leads to major medical complications. Tissue that has been starved of blood and oxygen can quickly inflame and release toxins when blood flow is restored. Currently, this is mitigated by the timing of how blood and other fluids are returned to the body.
Valprioc acid has been shown to reduce the complications as blood flow returns, and the Army wants more clinical trials of VPA treatments sooner rather than later. In a study where rats were drained of half their blood, rats treated without VPA survived only 14 percent of the time while rats treated with VPA survived 87.5 percent of the time.
7. New vaccines
The significance of new vaccines is obvious. New vaccines allow humans to be made resistant to more potential killers. The Army currently has three new vaccines in its sights, one each for malaria, norovirus, and dengue.
A proposed malaria vaccine would have cut down on the 198 million cases and 500,000 deaths in 2013. Average people will get norovirus five times in their life without a vaccine, causing diarrhea and vomiting. Dengue is mosquito-borne and starts off as a mild fever but can become severe, sometimes leading to death.
8. Better skull implants
Following brain trauma or damage to the skull, some patients have to have a portion of skull removed and later replaced by an implant made of titanium or polymers. Currently, these implants are prone to infection.
The Navy is looking to reduce the number of infections after implantation by developing new surface materials that have different textures and nano particle coatings that release chemicals to prevent infection. This would reduce the number of follow-up surgeries a patient would need and lower recovery time.