An Oregon startup has developed a pocket-size device that uses tiny sponges to stop bleeding fast.
When a soldier is shot on the battlefield, the emergency treatment can seem as brutal as the injury itself. A medic must pack gauze directly into the wound cavity, sometimes as deep as 5 inches into the body, to stop bleeding from an artery. It’s an agonizing process that doesn't always work--if bleeding hasn't stopped after three minutes of applying direct pressure, the medic must pull out all the gauze and start over again. It’s so painful, “you take the guy’s gun away first,” says former U.S. Army Special Operations medic John Steinbaugh.
Even with this emergency treatment, many soldiers still bleed to death; hemorrhage is a leading cause of death on the battlefield. "Gauze bandages just don't work for anything serious," says Steinbaugh, who tended to injured soldiers during more than a dozen deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. When Steinbaugh retired in April 2012 after a head injury, he joined an Oregon-based startup called RevMedx, a small group of veterans, scientists, and engineers who were working on a better way to stop bleeding.
RevMedx recently asked the FDA to approve a pocket-size invention: a modified syringe that injects specially coated sponges into wounds. Called XStat, the device could boost survival and spare injured soldiers from additional pain by plugging wounds faster and more efficiently than gauze.
The team’s early efforts were inspired by Fix-a-Flat foam for repairing tires. “That’s what we pictured as the perfect solution: something you could spray in, it would expand, and bleeding stops,” says Steinbaugh. “But we found that blood pressure is so high, blood would wash the foam right out.”
So the team tried a new idea: sponges. They bought some ordinary sponges from a hardware store and cut them into 1-centimeter circles, a size and shape they chose on a whim but later would discover were ideal for filling wounds. Then, they injected the bits of sponge into an animal injury. “The bleeding stopped,” says Steinbaugh. “Our eyes lit up. We knew we were onto something.” After seeing early prototypes, the U.S. Army gave the team $5 million to develop a finished product.