Improving the sight of blood

An optical device created at the US Air Force Research Laboratory may dramatically shorten the time between the occurrence of a battlefield wound and the administration of life-sustaining fluids.

An optical device created at the US Air Force Research Laboratory may dramatically shorten the time between the occurrence of a battlefield wound and the administration of life-sustaining fluids, a development that may save many soldiers’ lives.

US Military medical personnel state that the most pressing need on the battlefield is the ability to insert a needle into a wound as soon as possible. This is not always precise, given the less than ideal battlefield conditions and varying degrees of light.

The new device, dubbed the Vein Viewer, overcomes visibility problems by using night vision goggles equipped with special filters to make veins instantly visible to the doctor or medic.

The goggles are said to enable the wearer to see infrared light that passes through a patient’s body, but is partially blocked by blood in the veins.

During initial experiments, the ARFL researchers used a TV remote control infrared light source and standard night vision goggles to be able to see the network of veins in fingers, hands, lower arms and feet.

The researchers found that this ability is due to the absorption of infrared light by deoxygenated haemoglobin travelling in veins.

Bone, muscle and other tissue are not viewed since they transmit or scatter the infrared light instead of absorbing it.

Further research using differing light sources and filters were performed to determine the optimum imaging characteristics of the device. Other experiments verified that a needle inserted beneath the skin is clearly visible because metal blocks infrared light.

Consequently, other anomalous foreign objects such as bullets or shrapnel may also be detected.

A prototype Vein Viewer has been successfully tested at Wright-Patterson Medical Centre, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Centre and Columbus Children’s Hospital.