Imagine being near death but having your vital functions put on ice just long enough to keep you from dying. Prolonging life via 'suspending' it or what is popularly termed suspended animation might sound very sci-fi but a new emergency technique might just make it reality.
In films or books, suspended animation is something that might go on for years, even decades (like in the films Alien and Prometheus). But surgeons on call at the PMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania will attempt to save lives by suspending critically wounded patients for a few hours.
The surgeons don't like calling it suspended animation, instead referring to it as 'emergency preservation and resuscitation'. But whatever you call it, what is happening is that vital functions are stopped temporarily without causing a patient's death.
One more step to cryogenic immortality?
This procedure will see a patient's blood replaced with a cold saline solution. The liquid then cools the body while stopping nearly all cellular activity. While a patient can't be brought back to life hours after dying, if said patient is dying but you suspend their cellular functions then surgeons might have time to fix whatever structural damage needs fixing.
At normal body temperatures, human cells need a regular oxygen supply. But once a heart stops beating, blood no longer carries oxygen to the cells and it takes just five minutes for damage to become irreversible.
But when temperatures are lowered, cells will need less oxygen as chemical reactions happen slower. This is why people have been revived after falling into icy water, despite not breathing for short periods of time.
The technique has been tried on pigs where severe wounds were inflicted on their arteries, causing massive haemorrhaging. Pigs kept at body temperature died, while pigs whose blood was replaced with saline and kept at lower temperatures managed to be resuscitated without damage to their brains.
Perhaps one day the technique could be expanded to terminal patients or critical accident victims. Bring on the cryogenic tubes!
[Source: New Scientist]