Suspended Animation To Leap From The Pages of Science Fiction to Clinical Trials

Monday, May 26, 2014

Suspended Animation To Leap From The Pages of Science Fiction to Clinical Trials

 Suspended Animation
Science fiction has featured placing people in suspended animation for long trips in space for decades.  The Emergency Preservation and Resuscitation For Cardiac Arrest From Trauma (EPR-CAT) study seeks to rescue patients who have suffered cardiac arrest due to massive bleeding by chilling them to nearly 50 degrees below normal body temperature. 

Very soon,  the world's first attempts at placing humans in suspended animation using a newly developed technique will take place at the UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The purpose of this research isn't for long-distance space flight (yet), but for saving lives.

Suspended animation featured prominently in the films 2001: A Space Odyssey,The Alien moves and Avatar.

In the study, ten initial patients will undergo the treatment.  Their wounds will be deemed otherwise be lethal and suspended animation will be a final attempt to buy the doctors time.

"We don't like to call it suspended animation because it sounds like science fiction, so we call it emergency preservation and resuscitation."

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The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center technique works, as suggested by science fiction, by cooling the body -- but not by applying an external temperature change.

A team of surgeons will remove all of the patient's blood, replacing it with a cold saline solution. This will cool the body, slowing its functions to a near standstill and reducing the need for oxygen.

The effect is similar to what has been seen in accidents where people are trapped in freezing conditions.  For instance, Swedish Anna Bågenholm survived trapped under a layer of ice in freezing water for 80 minutes in a skiing accident and Japanese Mitsutaka Uchikoshi survived 24 days without food or water by entering a state of hypothermic hibernation.

Suspended Animation

The study will also have potential implications for longer term preservation during cryonics.

"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, told New Scientist. "So we call it emergency preservation and resuscitation."

The technique was developed by Doctor Peter Rhee, who successfully managed to test it on pigs in the year 2000. In 2006, Dr Rhee and his colleagues published the results of their subsequent research. After inducing fatal wounds in the pigs by cutting their arteries with scalpels, the team replaced the pigs' blood with saline, which lowered their body temperature to 10 degrees Celsius.

All of the control pigs, whose body temperature was left alone, died. The pigs who were resuscitated at a medium speed demonstrated a 90 percent survival rate, although some of their hearts had to be given a jump start. Afterwards, the pigs demonstrated no physical or cognitive impairment.

This study is a feasibility and safety study designed to see if hypothermia is beneficial in this setting. In EPR, body temperature is lowered to about 50ºF (10ºC) by administering a large volume of cold fluid through a large tube, called a cannula, placed into the aorta, which is the largest artery in the body. A heart-lung bypass machine would be used to restore blood circulation and oxygenation as part of the resuscitation process. The study will be conducted at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Maryland.

It's not science fiction quite yet -- a human body can only be safely placed under these conditions for a maximum of a few hours -- but even if it raises the survival rate just the little, it will be a massive step forward.

In the video below, Tisherman explains a new trial that will soon be underway at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and UPMC. Footage in the video was taken during practice runs of the procedure on mannequins at The Peter M. Winter Institute for Simulation Education and Research (WISER).

SOURCE  University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Top Image - 2001: A Space Odyssey

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