A team of physicians from the University of Maryland School of Medicine (United States) claims to have put the humans in "suspended animation" for the first time in history, as part of a trial that could allow health professionals to resolve traumatic injuries such as a knife wound or a gunshot wound, which could otherwise result in the death of the patient, according to an exclusive report published by the science magazine New Scientist.
What is suspended animation?
This process is based on rapidly cooling a person’s body by external means without reaching death, leaving the organism at around 10 - 15 degrees and replacing all his blood with a low temperature saline solution. Until now, this technique, except in the field of science fiction, has never been applied to human beings. This technique is intended to be used in urgent traumas in which the patient is between life and death.
According to the team leader, Samuel Tisherman, they placed at least one patient in suspended animation, but he has not revealed how many people have survived as a result of the process called "emergency preservation and resuscitation" (it is not known whether any of the patients have survived the test).
The technique is being carried out on people with acute trauma, who are at risk of bleeding to death and have suffered cardiac arrest, meaning, they might only have a few minutes left to operate to prevent the death of the patient.
How does it work?
When the body is quickly cooled between 10 - 15°C and all the blood was replaced with ice-cold saline, the subject’s brain activity stops almost completely. This is because oxygen is no longer transported to the brain, which stops the production of energy. At a normal body temperature, which is about 37°C, our cells need a constant supply of oxygen to produce energy. Without this process, even five minutes without oxygen in the brain can cause irreversible damage. The solution is usually pumped directly into the aorta, the main artery that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body.
Thus, after cooling and subsequent disconnection, the patient is transferred to the operating room for surgery. Surgeons now have two hours to repair the injuries before the patient’s body warms up again and the heart is restarted.
The experts obtained the agreement of the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to conduct the trial even without the consent of the patient, as there is no alternative treatment available.
Tisherman’s team claims that they will be able to announce the full results of this historic medical test by the end of 2020.
"Once we can prove that it works, we can extend the usefulness of this technique to help patients survive, something they otherwise could not," Tisherman said.
Previous studies have shown that suspended animation can help save injured pigs, although it has not been successful on all occasions. "We felt it was time to take it to our patients,” Tisherman told New Scientist, which reported the story exclusively. “Now we’re doing it and we’re learning a lot as we move forward with the trial.”
Complications and the vision of the future
A complication of the procedure is that patients' cells can get damaged as they warm up after surgery.
NASA believes that complete hibernation for interstellar travel remains a fairly distant goal. The agency is investigating ways to make astronauts’s bodies lethargic, thereby reducing their metabolism for prolonged periods, but at the moment it is a fairly distant prospect.
Tisherman was blunt: "I want to make it clear that we are not trying to send people to Saturn. We are trying to buy more time to save lives.”