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"Suspending Life" to be Tested on Victims of Fatal Wounds

May 27, 2014 02:26 PM EDT
Suspended animation
This isn't like science fiction, but it's close. Scientists are going to try to suspend ten victims of fatal wounds in a state between living and dying for several hours in the hopes that buying time can help save lives.
(Photo : Wiki CC0)

Scientists are going to try to suspend 10 victims of fatal wounds in a state between living and dying for a few hours in the hopes that buying time can help save lives.

UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh will be involved in the first historic human trials that may bring us one step closer to science fiction's "suspended animation."

The trial will reportedly involve specially trained hospital surgeons attempting to suspend the life of patients, who have been inflicted with fatal knife or gunshot wounds, for up to four hours. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is allowing these trials with an exception from informed consent - but only in emergency cases that cannot be addressed in another manner and would otherwise result in death.

"If a patient comes to us two hours after dying you can't bring them back to life. But if they're dying and you suspend them, you have a chance to bring them back after their structural problems have been fixed," surgeon Peter Rhee at the University of Arizona in Tucson, told NewScientist Magazine.

Rhee helped develop the technique that will be tested in trials later this month. According to Rhee, surgeons will be suspending life by rapidly cooling the body, but not exposing the body to so much cold at once that it kills cells. The blood of victims will quickly be drained and replaced with a cold potassium or saline solution - bringing the body down to around 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit). This should give surgeons about two hours to fix whatever structural damage was going to lead to fatal blood loss, and a small window of additional time to gradually warm up the body as blood is pumped back in. Then, and only then, can resuscitation efforts begin, according to NewScientist.

Rhee and his colleagues have already successfully "suspended" the lives of animals with this technique back in 2000. According to a study published in Surgery, the researchers successfully suspended the near-death lives of seven out of nine lethally hemorrhaging pigs. Each of these pigs survived for an additional 60 minutes via the cooling process, giving researchers adequate time to patch them up prior to resuscitation.

According to the study, the pigs were not oxygen deprived while in this state, even with their blood gone, because nearly no metabolic reactions occur. Anaerobic glycolysis alone, the process by which cells generate energy without the use of oxygen, creates an adequate amount of energy  - but it can only sustain cells for so long.

This means that "suspended animation" - science fiction's solution for interstellar space travel - is still a long way off. Saving lives, on the other hand, may have just gotten even easier.

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