News Feature | December 8, 2016

"Neural Tourniquet" Uses Electrical Signals To Staunch Bleeding

By Suzanne Hodsden


A recent advance in bioelectronic medicine may be able to stop internal or external bleeding by stimulating certain nerves in the brain using a “neural tourniquet.” Researchers from the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research (FIMR) believe the treatment could be used in battlefield medicine, emergency care, surgery, or post-partum treatments to treat or prevent hemorrhaging.

Bioelectronic research has reframed the approach to modern medicine by studying the body as a system of electrical grids, and treating chronic illness by manipulating signals that travel along the body’s circuitry. Recent research suggests that “electroceuticals” could work alongside pills and injected medicines to treat pain, inflammation, hypertension, or diabetes, reported Business Insider.

Researchers at FIMR have been studying bioelectronic medicine for 15 years and have demonstrated success with their treatments in major clinical trials, according to IEEE Spectrum. Set Point Medical — a spinoff from FIMR — currently is working on a bioelectronic treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. Hoever, even with substantial evidence, Chris Czura, a VP at FIMR, calls the idea of a neural tourniquet a “real leap of faith.”

Traditional tourniquets work by using pressure to compress blood vessels and slow bleeding at the site of the wound, but a neural tourniquet starts in the brain. Electronic signals used to stimulate the vagus nerve travel to the spleen and jumpstart the body’s clotting mechanism. Platelet blood cells are then dispatched to the site of the wound to stop the bleeding.

“It grabs control of the mechanism the brain uses,” Czura told IEEE Spectrum. “The body has a natural physiologic pathway to control bleeding, and this just ramps it up.”

A clinical study conducted with pigs found that the neural tourniquet reduced bleeding time by 40 percent and the amount of blood by 50 percent — independent of other factors such as changes in heart rate or blood pressure. By testing for blood clot enzymes at different locations in the body, researchers found that the treatment was targeted at the site of the wound.

With demonstrated success in animal models, FIMR scientists and researchers at a FIMR spinoff company Sanguistat — which will work to commercialize the technology — plan to launch a global clinical trial to test success of the treatment during post-partum care to reduce the risk of postpartum hemorrhage. The trial is funded, in part, by the Global Good Fund, which is backed by the Bill Gates Foundation.

“The Neural Tourniquet could represent a major breakthrough in the treatment of bleeding,” said CEO and President of Sanguistat Ronald Burch in a press release. “If successful, it would have tremendously positive implications, not only for women giving birth, but also for soldiers wounded in battle, for patients in ERs, and for patients with chronic bleeding diseases such as hemophilia.”

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) recently launched ElectRx, a program that will fund research into bof ioelectronic medicine. The first seven research projects are aimed at better understanding nerve pathways and methods of stimulation.

GlaxoSmithKline has scheduled several clinical trials for 2017 to test the efficacy of bioelectric approaches to the management of chronic disease, such as diabetes, Parkinson’s, and asthma. The company also created a venture capital fund to support startups, and has invested in FIMR’s SetPoint Medical.