Will Suspended Animation Become a Real Thing?

A theme common in science fiction media, suspended animation, or the indefinite suspension of human life is something that seems impossibly dangerous, fit only for books and the big screen, but this month, at the UPMC Presbyterian Hospital, the first human testing of suspended animation will take place on ten patients.  While the purpose of this will not be for the space travel as seen in the movie Avatar, this trail will be of a medical nature, on patients who have suffered severe physical trauma.

The technique is not considered safe enough to put a human under for longer than only a few hours, but it is supposed to buy surgeons more time during surgery.

But what exactly is this suspended animation technique that these doctors will be performing?  The idea is to replace the all of the patient’s blood with a cold saline solution, bringing the body temperature way down, slowing all bodily functions, and thus reducing body’s need for oxygen, and extending survival time.   Cases in real life akin to this are stories of people who have survived cold for long periods of time, specifically because of the cold, such as Japanese man Mitsutaka Uchikoshi, who survived 24 days without food or water by going into a hypothermia induced hibernation.

“We are suspending life, but we don’t like to call it suspended animation because it sounds like science fiction,” Doctor Samuel Tisherman, the surgeon who will lead the trial, “So we call it emergency preservation and resuscitation.”

Back in 2000, Doctor Peter Rhee developed the technique and successfully tested it on pigs, with the work done by he and his team published six years later.  The team would cut open an pig’s artery, a fatal wound, and replace its blood with the saline solution, lowering the pig’s body temperatures to 10 degrees Celsius.  All of the control pigs, who were untreated, died of their wounds, but 90% of the pigs that were treated with the technique, after being warmed back up, survived.  Those that were warmed up slowly survived more often than those that were warmed up quickly, and showing no impairment, whether physical or mental.

Therefore, for now the technique will only be used on patients who are wounded in such a way that statistics show only about 7% survive, chest cavity open and half their blood lost.

Although the safe time for a person to be under the effects is only a few hours, it stands to be a huge jump in the medical world, because it’s a few more hours for surgeons to save lives, and possibly raise the chances of survival for more patients.

See also (with video): Acute Care Research

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