Biomedical Engineering Students Help Combat Battlefield Hypothermia

Published May 25, 2013

armyAt Stevens Institute of Technology, one of the top biomedical engineering schools in the country, a senior design team is working with the United States Army and New Jersey physicians to create an innovative device that will help fight off hypothermia on the front line. Team “Heat Wave” consists of five biomedical engineering students, faculty advisor Dr. Vikki Hazelwood, Dr. Herman Morchel from Hackensack University Medical Center, and several support experts from branches of the military.

After a severe trauma and loss of blood, complications from hypothermia have been proven to decrease the survival rate by 22.5 percent. As a result, blood loss and hypothermia are among the top causes of combat fatalities in the armed forces. In this unique real-world research project, the Stevens Institute of Technology is prizing students with the fantastic opportunity to develop valuable experience, as well as potentially save lives with its application in the industry. Creating a portable device that is able to re-warm soldiers suffering from hypothermia has the incredible possibility of transforming medicine on the battlefield.

While the current method for battling hypothermia is a wool blanket and an IV drip, these efforts to increase the core body temperature take up to 16 precious hours, which many wounded soldiers do not have. The Heat Wave system is designed to deliver heat and humidified air to the soldier through an oxygen mask. Since the entire blood volume passes through the lungs, the heat is instantly transmitted to the bloodstream.

The creative and innovative Heat Wave system capitalizes on the human anatomy of the lungs and the ability to utilize convection for rapid warm-ups. According to recent testing results on the system, the Heat Wave is much more effective than the other present treatments for hypothermia. It has been found to decrease the amount of time needed to resuscitate a patient with hypothermia by 75 percent. Not only does this help boost survival rates, it also helps lessen the burden on field medics who can attend to others.

Now that the Senior Design team has gained priceless real-world experience, they plan to pass the life-saving product on to make it into a device that is viable to field treatment. The students have reported feeling tremendously accomplished and satisfied knowing that their prototype will go on to save lives. Contributions like this project are a constant staple for biomedical engineers, which have helped to push biomedical engineering into one of the top career choices in the United States.

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