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Tech Industry

Portable device could save soldiers' lives

Philips Research to develop an ultrasound 'cuff' that could be used to help stop internal bleeding on the battlefield.

Many seriously injured soldiers die on the battlefield from internal bleeding before reaching medical care. So scientists are developing portable ultrasound packs that could one day be used without a doctor's assistance to detect and stem such life-threatening blood flow.

Philips Research said Wednesday that it has received funding from DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), the research arm of the U.S. Department of Defense, to lead development of an ultrasound device for military use in the coming years. Financial details were not disclosed.

"It has potential for saving lives on the battlefield, but we also see great potential for this technology in the civilian marketplace, in which maybe one day you can find this in an ambulance," said Michael Pashley, a research department head for ultrasound imaging and therapy at Philips Research, a division of Koninklijke Philips Electronics.

Image: Ultrasound triage

Philips is collaborating on the work with researchers at the Applied Physics Laboratory at the University of Washington, Seattle.

Ultrasound technology is commonly known for producing images of babies still in the womb, but it has many other medical uses, including tumor treatment. The technology relies on sending into the body a pulse of sound waves whose echo patterns produce an image of internal organs and whatever anomalies they may have. If, for example, an ultrasound detects a rupture to an internal blood vessel, medical professionals can use the technology to focus a beam of high-intensity sound waves on the rupture so that the blood coagulates. That prevents the patient from going into shock.

For the battlefield, Philips and scientists at the University of Washington are developing a lightweight cuff device and portable ultrasound pack that could carry a power supply and a computerized system to automatically control the emitting sound waves. The external cuff, attached to the pack, would be wrapped around a soldier's wounded area, such as an arm or leg, emit the sound waves and stanch any internal bleeding until the victim could be taken to a medical facility.

Philips' Pashley said the team is in the first phase of research to show the feasibility of the technology. DARPA funded research for the device, called Autonomous Acoustic Hemostasis, in January, and the team has another year to demonstrate a working prototype, he said. In total, DARPA has provided funds for a four-year medical technology project to reduce the number of battlefield deaths from internal bleeding.

"We're building a system for doing this automatically, without a doctor," Pashley said. "There's nothing equivalent to this that exists."