A new and very radical procedure, which involves replacing all the patient's blood with a cold salt water mixture, can bring people back from the brink of death, says David Robson.
"It used to be when your body was at a temperature of 10 degrees Celsius, with no brain activity, heart beat or blood - that everyone would agree you are dead." Says Peter Rhee from the University of Arizona. "But today, we can still bring you back."
And shockingly, he's correct. Together with Samuel Tisherman of the Maryland university, the two have shown it is possible to keep living bodies in this state of 'suspended animation' (although technically that's not what it is). The procedure has been tested on animals so far, with some stunning results. The animals were put in this state of cold suspended animation, were operated upon and then returned
This method was developed to help those who are critically injured and have run out of time. The body is put in this 'suspended animation' while the injury is treated. Once that is done, blood is once again pumped in to the veins, the body warms and once again receives a pinkish hue. At a certain temperature, the heart gives a pulse, as if out of nowhere, and then another, as it resumes normal functioning automatically.
“They’d be groggy for a little bit but back to normal the day after,” says Tisherman. The other researcher involved in the development of this method.
"It's important that this doesn't get 'hyped up' say Tisherman. "The term 'suspended animation' carries with it a connotation of science fiction, yet it's important that the public be told it is NOT science fiction - just science."
Today, say scientists, the concept of true death is not the same as it was. It used to be that once you died - you died. Today, we understand that the cells in your body die hours after your supposed death, and even after you've become a cadaver, you're still retrievable.
Despite this level of deep hypothermia used already during heart surgeries, it has never been used to revive a person who has already, technically, died even before entering the hospital. The most amazing feat will be to drain the blood from the body and replace it with chilled saline solution. Because the body’s metabolism has stopped, the blood is not required to keep cells alive, and saline solution is the quickest way to cool the patient, explains Tisherman.
This isn't something they just came up with. Tisherman has spent the last 2 decades proving that this procedure is both safe and effective. Many of his trials were with fatally wounded pigs (who have very similar internal organs to humans). Nearly 90% of all the pigs survived the return of blood to their veins, and displayed very few side effects from the procedure.
This method of course, when finally performed on humans, will only be used in the most dire of circumstances, when it is the only option other than to declare the patient's death. Still, it's an amazing step in science and perhaps the path to more medical miracles.
Images courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee / freedigitalphotos.net