The Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh is trialling new life-saving methods for fatally wounded patients. Surgeons are now permitted to replace the blood of patients dying from a traumatic injury with saline solution. The solution cools the body to 10°C, slowing metabolic processes and giving the surgeons extra time to operate.
When a patient has suffered severe trauma their cells are deprived of oxygen and switch to anaerobic respiration. At normal temperatures the anaerobic process can only sustain cells for up to two minutes before irreparable damage occurs, meaning that surgeons have a limited window in which to act. The new procedure will hopefully allow patients to survive for several hours with no brain activity or breathing while the injury is dealt with.
In animal trials in 2002, pigs underwent uncontrolled lethal haemorrhaging before cooling and surgery. The animals survived, their memory was intact and no learning deficiencies were noticed. Informed consent for this procedure is not needed; the FDA rules the procedure exempt as patients are unconscious and have only a seven per cent chance of survival without the use of suspended animation. If the method can be extended to longer periods of time it holds promise for other applications, including cryogenics and interstellar travel.
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