SOLDIERS who suffer serious battlefield limb injuries could avoid amputations thanks to a pioneering new treatment technique developed by researchers at Strathclyde University.

The three-stage method – designed for use by combat medics in the field – uses specialist equipment and draws on injuries inflicted on UK armed forces personnel by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), which funded the research, hailed it as “hugely important” and says it could save the lives of those with the most serious wounds.

The treatment involves the use of a “novel” tourniquet which applies pressure at various points to limit damage to an injured limb while reducing blood loss. A cooling “sock” is then wrapped around the tissue to protect against further damage until the casualty can be evacuated to a clinic or hospital. The limb is then placed inside a protective “box” with specially decontaminated air to reduce infection and encourage blood flow to the affected area while doctors attempt repairs.

It is hoped that the lightweight, easy-carry system could also be employed in natural disaster relief or used in remote areas with geographical barriers to specialist care.

Successful trials have already taken place and the system will now go forward for commercial sale through Dstl, which is an executive agency of the MoD and works along commercial lines with industry and researchers internationally.

Professor Terry Gourlay, head of Biomedical Engineering at Strathclyde University, said: “We looked at every stage of the journey a soldier follows after injury to ensure our solution was designed specifically for them.

“The system we have developed is essentially a life-support system for the limb which gives doctors precious time to attempt to repair damage while ensuring the safety of the patient.”

Dr Neal Smith of Dstl added: “While this technique may not be right for every injury, it is a hugely important innovation which could save the limbs of many more of those affected.

“It’s a fantastic example of where we work with academics to fund life-changing research which has been turned into a product to improve the quality of life of those injured in service.”

Last year, a Canadian study found IED victims required more amputations than those injured by standard landmines.The findings are based on the assessments of IED victims treated at a Nato centre in Kandahar, Afghanistan, over an 18-month period.

The paper, led by Dr Vivian Charles McAlister of the Royal Canadian Medical Service, said the “injury pattern suffered by the survivors of the IED is markedly worse” than that from standard munitions and includes “extensive” soft tissue injuries extending to areas aside from affected limbs. It stated: “It is a weapon, which, of its nature, causes superfluous injury and unnecessary suffering.”