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.

That agent, called thrombin, is coated onto sponges that can be easily packed by soldiers and field medics (or civilian medical personnel for that matter) and shaped to fit just about any kind of wound. Those pre-coated sponges are a pretty big improvement over tourniquets and gauze, which are limited in their ability to stop every kind of bleeding. Tourniquets obviously can’t be used on many parts of the body (the neck is a good example), and other glues and chemically treated bandages designed for dressing battlefield wounds come with their own complications and shortcomings.

Thrombin, on the other hand, is already used by the body to stop bleeding. Civilian hospitals also use it already, but it’s in liquid form so sponges must be soaked immediately before they are applied to the wound, making them impractical for the battlefield. MIT’s sponge instead uses a spray-on biological nanoscale coating using alternating layers of thrombin and tannic acid, which results in a film that contains a large amount of functional thrombin with a shelf life that makes it feasible to pack them into the field. Both substances are already FDA approved, the researchers say, which means the sponges could quickly find their way into wider use.

That’s good news for soldiers, and potentially good news for anyone who sustains a trauma far from the emergency room. The MIT lab is now working on a sponge that combines a blood-clotting coating with an antibiotic layer in a single sponge to help fight off infection even as a dressing stops the initial bleeding.