Surgeons at the UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh, PA will attempt to save the lives of gunshot or knife wound victims by placing them in suspended animation.
The purpose of suspended animation is not (yet) for space travel, but to give doctors more time to fix wounds that would otherwise kill the patient. Doctors will be attempting this on 10 patients.
Doctors are calling this process emergency preservation and resuscitation.
“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,” says Dr. Peter Rhee. Rhee is a surgeon at the University of Arizona in Tucson and he helped develop the emergency preservation and resuscitation technique.
In order to suspend someone’s life, doctors aim to replace a patient’s blood with a cold saline solution. The solution will rapidly cool the body down and stop all cellular functions. When the body is cooled to lower temperatures, cells need less oxygen to survive because all chemical reactions have slowed down. Therefore, your body is not alive, but it’s not yet dead.
At some point, the patients body temperature will reach 10 degrees celsius. They’ll have no blood in their body. They won’t be breathing and there will be no brain activity. Technically, they’ll be dead.
However, since no metabolic reactions are happening in the body, the patient’s cells will be able to survive without oxygen through a process called anaerobic glycolysis. At cold levels, anaerobic glycolysis can allow cells to survive for hours, giving doctors enough time to perform surgery. Surgeons have up to 2 hours to do so.
Once the wound has been fixed, the saline will be replaced with blood. Then, the patient will be resuscitated. The blood will warm up the body which would help prevent any tissue damage.
This is a groundbreaking medical technique that could possibly save many lives.