Uncontrolled bleeding has been the leading cause of death on the battlefield. Thanks to engineers over at MIT, however, that risk has been reduced, as they’ve developed a nanoscale biological coating that can stop bleeding nearly instantaneously, according to MIT News.

Led by engineering professor Paula Hammond, the team created a spray coating that includes thrombin, a clotting agent found in blood, that can be easily applied to sponges and carried by soldiers or medical personnel on duty.

“The ability to easily package the blood-clotting agent in this sponge system is very appealing because you can pack them, store them and then pull them out rapidly,” Hammond said to MIT News.

In recent years, researchers have tried alternative approaches to the traditional tourniquet, but each were found to have significant disadvantages. Fibrin dressings and glues have a short shelf life, while zeolite powders are difficult to apply under windy conditions and have led to severe burns. While some bandages have been more successful, they’re also more difficult to mold around more complex wounds.

Funded by MIT’s Institute of Soldier Nanotechnologies and Ferrosan, a Denmark-based consumer health and medical devices company, the coating’s materials have already been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which Anita Shukla, the paper’s lead author and an MIT alum, said “could help with the approval process for a commercialized version of the sponges.”

David King, a trauma surgeon and instructor in surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital, called the new material “exciting,” saying that “a key advantage of the spray method is that it allows a large amount of thrombin to be packed into the sponges.” Once sprayed, the sponges can be stored for months before use, and can be molded to fit to the shape of any wound.

To test the thrombin, researchers applied the coated sponges to animals with their thumb for about 60 seconds. The bleeding stopped within that time, while a sponge without the thrombin required at least 150 seconds to stop the bleeding. The team has filed a patent application on the technology, and will hopefully be able to make it available for more commercial use in civilian hospitals soon.

Hammond’s next step? Combining blood-clotting and antibiotic activities into a single sponge.