News FocusThe War in Afghanistan

War as a Laboratory For Trauma Research

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science  11 Mar 2011:
Vol. 331, Issue 6022, pp. 1261-1263
DOI: 10.1126/science.331.6022.1261

You are currently viewing the summary.

View Full Text

Log in to view the full text

Log in through your institution

Log in through your institution


In many ways, war is the perfect laboratory for trauma medicine research. On any given day, dozens or even hundreds of casualties arrive by helicopter to military hospitals across Iraq and Afghanistan. IEDs are the number one risk, often combining burns, deep lacerations from shrapnel, and brain trauma from blast waves. Injuries like these are too rare to study in peacetime. And because all the patients are military personnel, they come with exhaustive data relating to preinjury health and postinjury outcome. Many of the insights gained from battlefield studies have found their way into civilian emergency medicine. But war is also the most chaotic and stressful environment imaginable for doing science. Adding to the difficulty, controversy has dogged medical research conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan, including charges by journalists that researchers rushed experimental treatments onto the battlefield without proper ethical review or sufficient safety testing, needlessly risking the lives of soldiers. Science investigated these issues with the help of two bioethicists and several sources from both civilian and military trauma medicine.