Doctors Put Human Under Suspended Animation

Henrietta Brewer
November 22, 2019

For the first time ever outside a TV or movie set, a team of doctors has succeeded in placing humans who had suffered severe physical trauma in a state of suspended animation to keep them alive.

The procedure is being used on people arriving at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore with an injury such as a gunshot or stab wound, who have had a cardiac arrest, and who have lost more than half their blood, leaving doctors just minutes to operate.

With EPR, the patient is cooled rapidly by replacing their blood with ice-cold saline - the heart stops beating and brain activity nearly completely stops.

Rapid cooling of trauma victims is created to reduce brain activity to a near standstill and to slow the patient's physiology enough to give surgeons precious extra minutes, perhaps more than an hour, to operate.

Samuel Tisherman, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine told New Scientist that he along which a team of medics have already placed a patient in suspended animation as part of a trial it hopes to announce the results of at the end of 2020.

EPR buys medics two hours to perform surgery and fix the patient's injuries before their body is warmed back up, and their heart is restarted.

"We are learning a lot as we move forward with the trial", Tisherman told New Scientist.

"I want to make clear that we're not trying to send people off to Saturn", Tisherman said. "We're attempting to use ourselves more time to build lives".

Doctors are still working to understand how the time a person is in suspended animation can be extended. So, if the heart stops, irreversible brain damage will occur within about five minutes because the brain is not being provided with the oxygen that it needs. This deprivation, depending on how long it lasts, could complicate the re-warming phase with reperfusion, in which the risk of tissue death counterintuitively increases as oxygen-rich blood is pumped back into the body. "We felt it was time to take it to our patients", Tisherman told New Scientist, which was the first to report on the work. Patient consent is not needed, as their injuries are most likely fatal and there is no alternative treatment to save their lives.

The team advertised the trial among the local community and have given people the option to opt out via the project's website. "Once we can prove it works here, we can expand the utility of this technique to help patients survive that otherwise would not".

Drugs could be used to extend the time a person is suspended, but Dr Tisherman explained that "we haven't identified all the causes of reperfusion injuries yet".

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