Mark Prigg — Daily Mail May 26, 2014
It sounds like something out of Star Wars – doctors are attempting to save the lives of ten patients by putting them in ‘suspended animation’, when they are neither alive or dead.
Surgeons at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh will cool down the patients so their blood cells need less oxygen to survive.
While the body is in this state, the team will work to fix the ‘structural problems’ caused by a blade or a bullet.
The trial will take place later this month and the surgeons are already on call at the hospital, primed for when a suitable patient arrives.
Because the patients will be unable to give consent to the procedure, researchers have been running a publicity campaign to allow potential patients to opt out.
Locals have been able to order bracelets to indicate that they don’t consent.
The procedure – which has been likened to what happened to Han Solo in the Star Wars movie Empire Strikes Back - will see all of the patients’ blood being replaced with cold saline solution, meaning their bodies will quickly cool to 10C and almost all cellular activity will stop.
‘We are suspending life, but we don’t like to call it suspended animation because it sounds like science fiction,’ Samuel Tisherman, a surgeon at the hospital, told New Scientist.
‘So we call it emergency preservation and resuscitation.’
Peter Rhee at the University of Arizona added: ‘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.’
It has long been known that there are benefits to cooling the bodies of some severely injured people.
When the body is at its normal temperature, cells need a strong supply of oxygen, meaning that if the heart stops beating, the person will die rapidly.
However, if the body temperature has been reduced, less oxygen is required, buying doctors time to save the patient.
Previously, cooling of a body has been used during some operations but this involves circulating the blood through a cooling system.
This is not an option in emergency medicine as it takes too long.
As a result, doctors had to find a method of cooling the body much more quickly.
In 2002 researchers at the University of Michigan tested a new technique on pigs.
The creatures were sedated and then subjected to massive blood loss before their blood was replaced by cold saline solution.
Once the pigs had been cooled to 10C, their injuries were repaired and they were warmed up again.
The saline solution was replaced by their blood.
The researchers noted that in most of the pigs, the hearts started again naturally and they suffered no long-term ill effects.
The medics are now ready to try the technique on humans.
However, they will need the right patient.
It will have to be someone whose heart has stopped as a result of an injury and who cannot be successful revived using traditional techniques.
Their body temperature will be reduced in just 15 minutes, they will temporarily have no blood in their system and they will not be breathing or have any brain activity.
Technically, they will be dead.
The doctors hope that the patients will then revive naturally but if they do not then they will be resuscitated.