Medical treatment on the battlefield has come a long way since the field amputations and gangrene of the 19th, and even early 20th, century. Accompanying the increased firepower and explosive force being used against soldiers, have been advances in the medical treatment of wounded troops, with techniques expanding into civilian care. Here are a few of the advances medical science has made in helping wounded troops heal.
Physical deformity and scarring from the wounds received in battle are a major concern in the treatment of wounded troops. Dr. J. Peter Rubin at the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh is working on new methods for correcting facial injuries. Using fat grafts, the approach promises to reduce and heal the facial scars of injured soldiers. In turn, this will positively affect the psychological aspects of suffering the wounds. Other researchers have focused on rebuilding body parts, from bone to ears, using new materials and uninjured parts of the soldier’s body. Animal tissues have been used to rebuild muscles, and titanium frames with spray on cell layers, as one example of where the technologies are going, will eventually be streamlined for use in rebuilding noses and ears.
Strides in transplantation medicine have also made their way to the military. Since 2008, the Pentagon has spent $250 million dollars on transplant and regeneration studies according to Wired. One such surgery being studied is face transplantation. Face transplants were once only found in science fiction, but based on successful civilian procedures the military granted funding to UCLA in 2012 to study techniques and civilian outcomes in hopes that they can be used to help wounded troops rehabilitate from severe injuries.
Stopping blood loss
Major advances in the treatment of wounded troops involve not only the long-term correction of battle wounds after they leave the front lines, but the stabilization of the soldier on the field to keep them alive. The TourniCath by Cardio Command is a quick and easy way to prevent wounds from bleeding out on the front line. A small balloon is inflated by an attached pump, plugging up a bullet hole or shrapnel wound in less than 90 seconds. The hemorrhage control device has been cleared for marketing in Europe. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) also developed a nano-bio-bandage to prevent blood loss on the battlefield. Sponges coated with an ultrathin layer of thrombin, a protein naturally produced in blood clotting, can be packed into a wound and stop bleeding. The researchers are working on taking this a step further by incorporating antibiotics to prevent infection at the same time.
Many researchers, such as those at the Institute for Military Medicine of the University of Cincinnati School of Surgery, are working on the advances in battlefield medicine for the future. Examples of future technology is an automated closed circuit oxygen ventilator, data logging devices to monitor intracranial pressure in the event of a head injury, which is especially important in active battle zones where soldiers commonly suffer from traumatic brain injury from roadside bombs, alternatives to fluid replacement in the event of massive blood loss, and skin substitutes to repair burns. Yet other researchers are looking at photochemical tissue bonding, a light-activated process for repairing tissue on the battlefield. Other future advances focus on avoiding amputation from severe wounds – Arteriocyte, a company that has worked with the military before, was approved by the FDA to study marrow injections and their ability to prevent amputation of wounded limbs. And yet other researchers are pursuing suspended animation to ensure severely wounded troops make it to the hospital for treatment.
Medical science continues to make strides in protecting and treating wounded troops. Those who put themselves in danger’s way have better hope for survival and higher quality of life thanks to the researchers who advance the techniques and materials used on the battlefield.