If not treated quickly and properly, battlefield wounds can soon become a menace to life and limb. Unfortunately, it isn't always possible to evacuate a wounded soldier immediately to a medical facility, so the US Office of Naval Research (ONR) is sponsoring development of a new field dressing called Acute Care Cover for the Severely Injured Limb (ACCSIL), which not only covers wounded limbs, but reduces damage and protects exposed tissues for up to 72 hours.
Dressing wounds in the field, especially traumatic blast wounds, is a very serious and difficult business. Aside from stabilizing the patient by minimizing blood loss and fending off shock, the medic has to cover the wound properly. This keeps the exposed tissues moist so they don't deteriorate, as well as keeping out dirt and bacteria that can lead to infection and conditions like gangrene.
In the end, the best way of treating wounded soldiers is to evacuate them to hospital as fast as possible, but sometimes it can take hours or days to get a wounded soldier to proper care, which is why new types of field dressings are so sought after to control bleeding and fend off infection.
One major problem is that the bandages now in use don't keep out bacteria very well or protect the tissues, so it's common for medics to use plastic wrap and tape. According to ONR, this dodge does keep the wound moist, but it doesn't protect or preserve the tissues very effectively.
Designed by Battelle in partnership with ONR, Naval Research Laboratory, and the Naval Medical Research Center, ACCSIL is intended for use by corpsmen and medics in conjunction with the tourniquet. It's a lightweight covering that wraps close to a limb, keeps a wound fresh, and protects the tissues for up to 72 hours.
ACCSIL is made in two parts. Outside is a cover that's designed to conform to the shape of the limb – sealing it to stop bleeding, keep it warm, and keep dirt out. Inside is the "bioactive" layer, which keeps the wound moist and is impregnated with special chemicals that release antibiotics and pain medication to prevent bacterial and fungal growth.
ONR plans to demonstrate ACCSIL in the next two years and, if it proves successful, it will not only be useful for infantrymen, but could find applications on ships, submarines, factories, farms, motor car accidents, and terrorist attacks where immediate surgical care may not be available.
"The goal with this wrap is not healing but preservation," says Kelly Jenkins, director of advanced materials for Battelle's Consumer, Industrial, and Medical business unit. "We want to try to stop time — to keep the wound as fresh as when it first happened and give surgeons up to 72 hours to start treatment. Even if ACCSIL can't save the whole limb, we want to save enough of the limb to give the patient a good quality of life they might not otherwise have had in such a situation."
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