According to Samuel Tisherman, spokesperson from the University of Maryland, his team of researchers have successfully placed at least one human in suspended animation for the first time in history.
The goal of this ground-breaking achievement is to enable medical professionals to fix traumatic injuries such as gunshot or stab wounds that would otherwise lead to death through blood loss.
EPR, or emergency preservation and resuscitation, is currently being carried out on people who arrive at the University of Maryland Medical Centre in Baltimore with major injuries and have already had a cardiac arrest and lost more than half their blood.
Given that in situations like that operations have to take place within minutes, the team has devised a technique whereby patients are cooled down to around 10 to 15 °C by replacing all of their blood with ice-cold saline.
This brings the patients' brain activity effectively to zero – at which point they would be classified as dead – giving the medical team approximately 2 hours to perform the necessary procedures before warming the patients back up and restarting their hearts.
The rationale behind the technique is that as the body, including the brain, becomes cooler, the oxygen-hungry chemical reactions in our cells slow down or stop, thereby giving surgeons a better chance at fixing whatever needs fixing.
“I want to make clear that we’re not trying to send people off to Saturn. We’re trying to buy ourselves more time to save lives,” Tisherman said.
One possible limitation of the technique might have to do with reperfusion injuries (inflammation and oxidative damage that occurs after circulation is restored) that may result if the person remains in suspended animation for too long, although that may be corrected, to some degree, by specialized drug cocktails.
Results of the trial involving 10 patients who received EPR and 10 patients who did not (simply because they have arrived at the Centre when the team trained in EPR was not in the hospital) are set to be published at the end of 2020.