Doctors have begun a clinical trial to test whether chilling patients’ bodies down to 10–15 °Celsius from their normal temp of 37 °C using a procedure called suspended animation can give surgeons time to intervene in otherwise fatal traumas, New Scientist reports.
The experiment involves patients who have experienced acute trauma—such as a gunshot or stab wound and have suffered cardiac arrest. The procedure, formally called EPR or emergency preservation and resuscitation, involves pumping an extremely cold salt solution into the patient’s arteries, lowering her body temperature and causing the body and brain functions to slow or completely stop. This idea is that this will buy surgeons time to operate and fix the injuries caused by the trauma. The patients are then warmed and resuscitated after surgery.
A least one patient has undergone the treatment, and administering it is “a little surreal,” Samuel Tisherman of the University of Maryland who is leading the research, tells New Scientist. He discussed the early results of the Food and Drug Administration–approved clinical trial using the procedure at a New York Academy of Sciences symposium held on Monday (November 18).
He did not elaborate on how many patients had been treated with suspended animation or whether they survived.
“In emergency medicine we’re always trying to blur the line between life and certain death, to create something that looks like hope where none previously existed,” Ken Fong, a consultant anesthetist at University College London hospital who was not involved in the study, tells The Guardian. “If EPR works, it’ll be a game-changer.”
During the trial, Tisherman and colleagues plan to use the cooling procedure on 10 acute trauma patients who are admitted to the University of Maryland Medical Center while they are on duty. The results of the trial will be compared to the outcomes of 10 acute trauma patients who could have received the suspended animation treatment but were admitted when the team was not working.
NASA has suggested using suspended animation to help astronauts endure deep space missions, but Tisherman pointed out that this application was not the focus of his team’s research. “I want to make clear that we’re not trying to send people off to Saturn,” he tells New Scientist. “We’re trying to buy ourselves more time to save lives.”
Ashley Yeager is an associate editor at The Scientist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.