SAN FRANCISCO — The US military is testing the use of foam injections as a way to stanch internal bleeding of soldiers wounded on the battlefield. The technology may also eventually save the lives of civilians injured in car or other serious accidents far from a hospital emergency room.
Expanding foam technology has long been a dream of the military and civilian emergency medical staff. All previous attempts have failed.
Now, working with $22.5 million from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Arsenal Medical Inc. of Watertown, Mass., has developed a powerful injectable foam that pushes past bleeding and molds itself around injured organs in animal tests.
The foam is intended for injection through the navel, from where it spreads through the chest cavity, applying pressure on internal injuries that may not be visible to medics. Tests suggest it will provide them as much as an additional three hours to get soldiers to care.
‘‘We’re solving what is, for most of the generals, the most emotional problem they worry about,’’ said Duke Collier, the executive chairman of Arsenal. ‘‘The guys who can be saved but who die from bleeds.’’
Arsenal, a closely held firm, was founded by a partnership of Harvard University chemist George Whitesides, and the biological engineer Robert Langer of MIT. Some of its funding is provided by Darpa, the elite Pentagon research unit that developed the Internet and provided early work leading to stealth technology for military aircraft.
The technology holds promise of treating injuries far beyond the battlefield, say civilian trauma experts. ‘‘War is a terrible thing, but this type of research is the kind of silver lining that can sometimes come out of it,’’ said Daniel Bonville, program director for critical care at Albany Medical Center, New York’s busiest trauma center.
Car accidents are a particular problem for his center, Bonville said. With no other major city closer than a several hour drive, injured car passengers are often out of range of help. ‘‘If people bleed uncontrollably for too long, even if they get here alive, it can end up being too late,’’ he said. ‘‘The quicker we can get the bleeding controlled in all cases, the better off we are going to be.’’
More than 20 percent of casualties are in shock when they are admitted to a military hospital, and about a quarter require a blood transfusion, according to data from the US Army’s Institute of Surgical Research. Shock is serious, occurring when blood loss damages tissues, and eventually leads to organ failure and death.
If the Food and Drug Administration green-lights the project, perhaps as early as next year, Arsenal plans to test the foam using a small group of trained special forces medics.