PITTSBURGH, Penn. (Newser) – It's a "groundbreaking emergency technique," and Pittsburgh surgeons are ready to attempt it on humans for the first time.
Doctors at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital soon intend to float 10 patients in the space between life and death, in a bid to extend the time doctors have to fix their injuries. In these cases, patients will have a potentially fatal knife or gunshot wound and have suffered cardiac arrest, have lost about half their blood, and will have not revived following attempts to restart their heart.
Based on those requirements, the hospital expects to see one likely candidate a month—a patient who, without the technique, has a 93% chance of dying. New Scientist calls the technique "suspended animation"; one of the hospital's surgeons prefer the less science-fiction-sounding "emergency preservation and resuscitation."
How it works: The patient's body temp will be drastically and rapidly cooled by swapping every drop of his blood for a cold saline solution; his cells will then be able to survive for hours without oxygen—though he'll be clinically dead.
The technique was proven to work on pigs in 2002, and is one that has never been tried to this extent in humans (in some surgeries, blood is chilled through a cooling system, but that process requires time and planning—two things not present with a traumatic wound). In the case of the pigs, most survived, and the doctor behind the research told the Telegraph, "By cooling rapidly in this fashion we can convert almost certain death into a 90% survival rate."
Doctors believe the technique will provide them a couple of hours to operate on selected patients.