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Super absorbent wound dressing will swell up to save soldiers’ lives in combat

According to the U.S. Army, around 80 to 90 percent of potentially survivable deaths among American soldiers on the battlefield occur as the result of uncontrolled bleeding. This refers to soldiers who are injured in combat, but bleed out before they can be taken to a hospital. With that shocking stat in mind, it’s no surprise to hear that the Army is working on a new kind of wound dressing which could help patch up bleeding wounds — and hopefully save hundreds, or even thousands, of lives in the process.

The new polystyrene and rubber wound dressing boasts an amazing amount of absorbency, letting it absorb up to 800 percent of the material’s weight in liquid. By comparison, that’s up to 5.7 times as absorbent as current state-of-the-art gauze-based hemostatic dressing, the kind of dressing currently used for bandaging up wounds.

The plastic material makes the new wound dressing strong and flexible, while acrylic acid is responsible for making it super absorbent, allowing it to pull the water out of blood to prompt it to clot more quickly. As it swells, the bandage forms a tough hydrogel, resulting in a wound patching material that is more than three times as tough as gauze.

“Thickness-dependent swelling is as much as an order of magnitude faster than many tough hydrogels … yet toughness is comparable as a function of water content,” reads the abstract to a research paper recently published about the work. “The polymer is combined with gauze to form a rapidly swelling, fiber-reinforced hydrogel composite with promising mechanical properties.”

This isn’t the first advanced wound dressing we’ve written about at Digital Trends. Earlier in 2018, we wrote about two novel nanofiber wound dressings developed at Harvard University, designed to rapidly accelerate the healing process, while also improving tissue regeneration. We also covered some futuristic-sounding cold plasma technology, described by its creators as being similar to the dermal regenerator from Star Trek. What makes the U.S. Army’s wound dressing so good, however, is that it is designed to be used as an emergency measure in life and death situations, in which a person may only have a couple of minutes before they hemorrhage too much blood to stay alive.

At present, this remains a research project. Going forward, the team hopes to scale up the project, with animal tests set to be the next step in the testing process. Let’s hope it’s not long before this is saving lives for real!

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