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Engineers' 'life-changing' system could save soldiers' limbs after IED explosions


The system is designed to prevent amputations after IED explosions (Credit: iStock)
The system is designed to prevent amputations after IED explosions (Credit: iStock)

A “life-changing” new technique could save soldiers’ limbs after injuries from devastating explosions.

Developed by biomedical engineers at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, the system was created in response to the traumatic injuries caused by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Iraq and Afghanistan. The development work was funded by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) 

The three-stage technique combines three devices to prevent amputations after injury. First, a novel tourniquet is applied to the limb, applying pressure in different points to reduce pressure and damage to specific areas. Second, a cooling ‘sock’ is wrapped around the limb to prevent further damage before evacuation.

A protective box with decontaminated air and a continuous blood supply to the limb then help limit infection and keep the limb alIve as doctors operate in hospital.

The technology weighs only 5kg and is designed for use by combat medics. It could also prevent amputations after natural disasters or accidents in remote locations.

“While this technique may not be right for every injury, it is a hugely important innovation that could save the limbs of many more of those affected,” said DSTL adviser Neal Smith. “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.”

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

“We looked at every stage of the journey a soldier follows after injury to ensure our solution was designed specifically for them,” said Terry Gourlay, head of biomedical engineering at Strathclyde University. “What 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.”

Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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