Student-designed device to fight battlefield hypothermia
By Ben Coxworth
May 25, 2011
For U.S. troops, the most common type of battlefield fatality involves blood loss due to trauma. When a soldier does experience blood loss, their chance of survival drops by 22.5 percent once hypothermia sets in. Needless to say, if that reaction can be minimized or delayed, then less fatalities should occur. A team of biomedical engineering students from New Jersey's Stevens Institute of Technology is working towards that goal, by developing a blood-warming system device known as Heat Wave.
Currently, hypothermic soldiers are treated using IV drips and wool blankets. According to the Stevens team, it can take up to 16 hours to raise a patient's core temperature to a stable level using such an approach. If the lab tests are any indication, Heat Wave should be able to do the same thing within just four hours. This would not only increase the survival rate of wounded soldiers, but would also free medics up to tend to other patients.
The device is a portable heater/humidifier, designed to pump warm, moist air through an oxygen mask and into the patient's lungs. As the entire body's blood volume passes through the lungs, the heat from that air is transferred through the lung tissue and into the blood.
The students tested their proof-of-concept prototype using an insulated container that represented the lungs, which was connected via a water-filled tube to another container, that was a stand-in for the cardiovascular system. As the warm air was pumped into the first container, sensors measured the heat transfer that took place between it and the second container.
Heat Wave would be used in conjunction with existing treatments. The students are developing it with assistance from the U.S. Army, and hope to pass the idea along to another party, that can turn it into a field-deployable product.