Advancing Medicine in Times of Need

Illustration by Avni Joshi

Illustration by Avni Joshi

For decades, science has advanced due to the impending need for increasing security, medical techniques, and communication systems in the military. A significant portion of our army funding is funneled towards the advancement of medical techniques in the hopes that despite a lack of advanced medical equipment in the field, patient lives can be saved. These include bioprinting organs, finding ways to prevent blood loss, and finding ways to preserve limbs.

These advances began as early as 1900, when Major Walter Reed, a U.S. army physician, discovered the medium through which yellow fever was transmitted: mosquitos (1). The discoveries carried on through 1935 when General Harry George Armstrong and Dr. John Heim noticed that pilots endured incredibly amounts of pressure during some of their flights. They tested how the human body endured conditions in large centrifuges in the hopes of improving it.

The amount of trauma, both psychological and physical, encountered in the battlefield is significantly larger than that which you would find at your local hospital. War is a place where the trauma can extend far beyond the battlefield and carry with people throughout the rest of their lives. Situations such as these warrant increasing our research attempts to find better methods to combat the loss of military lives. The harsh reality is that thousands of deaths encountered on the battlefield could have been prevented if the right medical conditions were present. According to a recent study carried out by the military, “4,596 combat deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2001 and 2011 were “potentially survivable” (2).

Furthermore, the solution is not as easy as increasing trauma center supplies at local hospitals since “90 percent of the deaths occurred before the injured reached a medical facility.” Thus, the ideal solution lies in improving medical techniques and equipment in the field itself.

The largest solution lies in decreasing blood loss rapidly. In fact, “uncontrolled blood loss was the leading cause of death in 90 percent of the potentially survivable battlefield cases and in 80 percent of those who died in a military treatment facility” (2).

In the past, the research facilities associated with the Department of Defense have created solutions to large problems using as few materials as possible. The tourniquet, a device that compresses a limb to constrict blood vessels and significantly decrease bleeding, was first invented by the military during the Civil War time. Furthermore, military research facilities found the use of tranexamic acid, or TXA, in clotting blood quickly and effectively. The fibrin bandage, which delivers fibrinogen and thrombin (both crucial to clotting) to the site of interest, and reduces blood flow by 50% to 85% (2).

Focusing on the psychological and neurological aspect of medicine, the White House initiated the Brain Initiative with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in 2013 with a focus on mending connections in the brain without as much surgical intervention. One of the most exciting projects is Electrical Prescriptions (ElectRx). The goal was to electrically stimulate parts of the brain in the hopes of treating pain, inflammation, stress, and anxiety. Scientists found efficient ways to let the body heal in natural ways without prescription drugs, thus decreasing the risk of drug addiction postwar. According to DARPA, “The technology could also help doctors evaluate and predict various physiological states, and characterize host response in patients with severe infections, providing a quantitative framework to guide operations and therapy” (3).

Military medicine is a huge push towards advancing the medicine we depend on today and we have incredible thanks to give to both our veterans and the military doctors.

Edited by: Amaan Qazi

Illustrated by: Avni Joshi

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