Sponges Save a Soldier

Aug. 22, 2014

By Medical Discovery News

Since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began in 2001 and 2004 respectively, over 1 million people have died in the combat. By the end of 2013, 5,829 of those were American soldiers. In 76 percent of potentially survivable battlefield wounds, the leading cause of death was hemorrhage. But more soldiers may make it home thanks to a new invention called XStat. It uses a light, pocket-sized injector to send 92 sponges into a wound, stopping arterial bleeding in 15 seconds.

Currently, caring for a wounded soldier on the battlefield is limited to what combat medics carry with them. Controlling hemorrhage is the first priority when treating a wounded soldier and can involve tourniquets or field dressings, Hemcon, Quickclot, and Fibrin bandages. Hemcon dressings are treated with chitosan, a naturally occurring biocompatible compound from shrimp shells that strongly adheres to blood and reduces blood clotting times. Quickclot gauze and pads are coated with a naturally occurring mineral, kaolin, which initiates the body’s natural coagulation to reduce clotting times. Fibrin bandages contain fibrin and thrombin, two key factors in the normal clotting process that cause rapid blood clotting once in contact with the wound. 

However, these products are not ideal for deep-penetrating wounds, which require packing gauze into the wound and applying pressure. If that does not work the first time, the process is repeated. This is an agonizing ordeal for the wounded person and bleeding can begin again once the pressure is taken off. This keeps the medic from being able to treat anyone else because he or she has to keep applying pressure to the wound to stop the bleeding. 

Medics have long been packing open wounds with combat gauze with mixed results and even the new treated gauzes, though much better, still are not ideal. The XStat system uses disk-shaped injectable sponges made of special sterile cellulose and coated with chitosan in a syringe-like injector. The sponges expand from three millimeters thick to 50 when they come in contact with blood, which not only speeds up clotting but also puts pressure on the blood vessels to slow bleeding. The sponges expand into tube shapes that clump together once they are saturated with blood and can be easily removed later. The sponges are also labeled with an X symbol that can be seen by X-Ray to ensure that they are all removed.

One injection of XStat is the equivalent of five rolls of combat gauze. It is smaller, faster, and less painful. All the medic has to do is inject the sponges close to the wound and bleeding is stopped within seconds. This invention is likely to help save many soldiers’ lives. RevMedx, the makers of XStat, are developing a smaller version of the device to inject sponges into narrower wounds like those from shrapnel, handguns, or knives. They are also creating a bandage with embedded sponges and a dressing with an inflatable bladder that would maintain pressure on wounds. Such devices would not just save lives on the battlefield but in everyday emergencies to stop hemorrhages and would be a welcome addition for emergency medical technicians to use.

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