Health & Science

Trauma Research Gets Pentagon Boost

Houston isn’t a military town, and the hospitals here don’t treat a lot of wounded soldiers. But the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston has joined a national network to figure out the best ways to treat battlefield injuries to the arms and legs. KUHF health science and technology reporter Carrie Feibel explains why.


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Trauma surgeons at Memorial Hermann Hospital treat a lot of broken bones and injured limbs. True, the causes of these injuries are usually car crashes and other accidents, not combat. But the treatment techniques are quite similar. Dr. John Holcomb says surgical lessons learned here could benefit the U.S. military.

“We’re going to look at civilian injuries and see if the lessons we learn from the civilian injuries — we think that will transfer back to the battlefield, so we can help the doctors helping care for the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan and other places.”

UT-Health recently joined a nationwide network of 27 trauma centers, both military and civilian. The network has received $57 million dollars from the Department of Defense to pool their data and conduct studies on saving arms and legs. Holcomb says doctors don’t always agree on what the best techniques are.

“We really don’t know exactly what to do. It appears it’s not good to leave patients in bed for six weeks, but whether we should take them to the operating room within an hour of injury, or within a couple of days of injury. And then the details of the operation, you know, should we put one of these frames on patient’s legs or put a nail down on the inside of the bone to fix it.”

Holcomb served 23 years as an Army surgeon. He says that despite recent focus on brain injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicide among soldiers, battlefield injuries have changed little in the past century. 70 percent involve trauma to the arm or leg. Those wounds come from automatic gunfire and explosions.

“The human body hasn’t changed and the munitions and the weapons used really haven’t changed since WW I, so the effects are remarkably similar.”

The research will include studies on the best techniques for rebuilding bones and preventing infection, and will also look at long-term rehabilitation. From the KUHF Health Science and Technology Desk, I’m Carrie Feibel.

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