Print options

December 20, 2012

Injectable Foam Could Prove Life Saver

by Matthew Hilburn

After any serious injury, it’s crucial to stabilize the injured long enough to get them to sophisticated medical assistance. In life-threatening cases, it’s called the golden hour, and while huge advances have been made to buy the needed time, there hasn’t been much first responders can do to stem internal bleeding caused by trauma.

But a new medical technology being developed for the U.S. military could provide a solution for soldiers and holds promise for civilian use.

In 2010, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) began what it calls the Wound Stasis System program to try to solve the vexing problem of stopping internal bleeding.

A possible solution emerged in the form of a foam-based product that can be injected into the abdominal cavity, which then expands and staunches internal bleeding. The foam could be administered by a combat medic in the field and then easily removed by a surgeon once the patient arrived at an appropriate facility.

The foam is a polyurethane polymer that forms inside a patient’s body upon injection of two liquids. As the liquids mix, two chemical reactions are triggered. First, the mixed liquid expands to approximately 30 times its original volume while conforming to the surfaces of injured tissue. Second, the liquid transforms into solid foam capable of stopping the internal bleeding without sticking to healthy tissue. The foam can be left inside a patient for at least one hour, according to DARPA, which cited successful testing on swine.

According to Duke Collier, the executive chairman of Arsenal Medical, Inc., which is developing the product, the U.S. Special Forces have been pushing for something like this because they operate in remote areas, far from sophisticated medical facilities.

But while the first customer will be the military, there is potential use in the civilian world.

“There’s a lot of conversation about whether this is something that would go onto ambulances,” said Collier whose company was just awarded $15.5 million to further develop the product. “Broadly speaking, the product as it‘s now being developed which is usable in a battlefield setting by a medic may well have application in a setting in which a first person to get there is an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) or someone who is not a physician or doesn’t have access to surgical suite.”

Collier added that as the product has been developed over the past two and a half years, many civilian trauma surgeons have seen numerous ways it could be adapted for civilian use.

“Every time we talk to a surgeon, they start thinking of  times when a product like this might be useful,” he said. “If you talk to 10 civilian surgeons, they might say they could see using something like this three or four times a year, but out of those 10, you get seven more ideas of what it could be used for,” adding that accidental nicking of the liver during surgery was frequently cited.

Collier said that in addition to possible use on ambulances, the product could be added to the devices aboard medical helicopters or come in handy in a busy emergency rooms where doctors prioritize treatment.

But Collier said not to expect the product in your local hospital any time soon, as it still needs to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use on the battlefield.