Pioneering New 'Life-Support System' Could Save Limbs Of Injured Soldiers

The technique provides more time for doctors to attempt to repair the damaged area and reduces the need for amputations.

A pioneering new technique could help save soldiers' limbs after battlefield injuries, reducing the need for amputations. 

Described as a "life-support system for the limb" it provides more time for doctors to attempt to repair the damaged area.

The technique was developed by researchers at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow and funded by The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) through the Defence and Security Accelerator.  

It was created in response to the traumatic injuries sustained by military personnel deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, where improvised explosive devices were used (IEDs).

IEDs have been the main killer of NATO troops in Afghanistan, and since 2001, 291 British soldiers have had amputations as a result of injuries during the conflict.

The technique works in three stages and can be used as a kit in the field and provides highly-specialised solutions once the patient is evacuated to a hospital. 

Professor Terry Gourlay, Head of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Strathclyde University, said:

"We looked at every stage of the journey an injured soldier follows after injury to ensure our solution was designed specifically for them.

"The system we have developed is essentially a life-support system for the limb which gives doctors precious time to attempt to repair damage while ensuring the safety of the patient."

Stage one of the treatment sees a novel tourniquet applied to the limb, which applies pressure at different points, reducing pressure and damage to a specific area. 

A cooling "sock" is then wrapped around the tissue to preserve the limb from further damage until the casualty can be evacuated to a care facility. 

After arriving at hospital the limb is then placed inside a protective "box" which can sustain the areas while doctors attempt repairs on the patient.

The box has specially decontaminated air to reduce infection and continually supply the affected area with blood.

Following successful trials, the system is set to be available commercially, and could one day form part of the medical kit in every frontline unit.

The technology weighs only five kilograms and is specially designed for deployment on operations, and use by combat medics.

However, the system could also be used in a non-military setting, for example, natural disasters or remote locations.

Dr Neal Smith, Medical Sciences capability adviser from Dstl, added:

"While this technique may not be right for every injury, it is a hugely important innovation which could save the limbs of many more of those affected.

"It's a fantastic example of where we work with academics to fund life-changing research which has been turned into a product to improve the quality of life of those injured in service."