While serving as an army medic during Operation Desert Storm, Richard Schwartz became all too familiar with gunshot wounds, particularly shots to the pelvis and upper legs. Enemies would target that region because body armor doesn’t always cover it. Conventional tourniquets don’t work around the abdomen—it’s impossible to tie them tight enough to cut off blood flow from the aorta. Soldiers with “junctional hemorrhages” may have only a few minutes before they bleed to death.
Self-healing materials will eventually fix anything from cell phone screens to car fenders, enabling surfaces to heal on their own in the presence of different types of light. But none of the earlier prototypes we’ve seen work quite like this new plastic: It bleeds red at the site of injury. Then it heals itself, inspired by the properties of tree trunks and human skin.
Bleeding out on the battlefield--far from the trauma wards and triage units that might save their lives--is a scenario that soldiers simply have to live with (and try like hell to avoid). But thanks to a nanoscale breakthrough at MIT, the chances of it happening could be significantly reduced. Researchers there have created a nanoscale coating that can stop bleeding nearly instantaneously using a clotting agent already found naturally in blood.
Ever since the first caveman ran through an adversary with a pointy stick, battlefield medicine has wrestled with the problem of blood loss from cutting and penetration. And while tourniquets can stop blood loss from an extremity, little can be done about large wounds to the chest and abdomen. That's where the TourniCath comes in.