Bleeding internally? Seal it with this DARPA foam

This injectable foam expands in the body to compress internal wounds. Animal tests have shown it reduces blood loss six-fold.

Tim Hornyak
Crave freelancer Tim Hornyak is the author of "Loving the Machine: The Art and Science of Japanese Robots." He has been writing about Japanese culture and technology for a decade. E-mail Tim.
Tim Hornyak
2 min read

While any soldier dreads the idea of being shot, sustaining an internal abdominal injury from an explosion or other impact can be far worse. Bleeding from wounds that can't be compressed causes some 85 percent of preventible battlefield deaths.

As part of DARPA's Wound Stasis program, Arsenal Medical has developed an injectable polymer foam that expands inside the body to stanch internal bleeding.

The concept of foam growing in the body reminds me of that 1980s B-horror film "The Stuff," but apparently it's effective.

Based on testing in pigs, DARPA says the product can control hemorrhaging in an abdominal cavity for at least an hour, a critical window to get the soldier to a medical facility.

"During testing, minimally invasive application of the product reduced blood loss six-fold and increased the rate of survival at three hours post-injury to 72 percent from the eight percent observed in controls," DARPA said in a release.

Results of testing were presented at the American Association for the Surgery of Trauma 2012 annual meeting (PDF).

The polyurethane polymer foam forms inside the body when two liquid phases are injected and react with one another. The liquid expands to about 30 times its volume and conforms to the internal features of the abdomen, as seen in the animation below.

The foam can also expand through pooled and clotted blood to reach the source of the bleeding. In testing, it took surgeons less than a minute to remove the foam, which comes out as a solid block.

I wouldn't want to have that stuff inside me for long, but I certainly wouldn't complain if it could save my life.

Arsenal is developing the foam for civilian use in acute hemorrhage and other applications. Meanwhile, DARPA is preparing to get FDA approval for it.

"According to the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research, internal hemorrhage is the leading cause of potentially survivable deaths on the battlefield, so the Wound Stasis effort should ultimately translate into an increased rate of survival among warfighters," DARPA program manager Brian Holloway was quoted as saying in the release.

"If testing bears out, the foam technology could affect up to 50 percent of potentially survivable battlefield wounds."