It might sound like something straight out of a science fiction movie or but it is true and it is real life, even though scientists don’t want to call it suspended animation. The first of the trials involving humans are about to start with 10 patients at the UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh. These are people that have suffered from injuries which would be fatal if surgeons were to operate on them.
The team of surgeons will remove the blood from the patients and then replace the blood with a saline solution that is chilled, which would cool down the patient’s body. This in turn slows down the bodily functions, which will delay death due to loss of blood. Dr Samuel Tisherman said “We are suspending life, but we don’t like to call it suspended animation because it sounds like science fiction… we call it emergency preservation and resuscitation.”
In 2000 tests were made on pigs and these were very successful. The pigs had fatal cuts and the scientists then dropped the body temperature down to 10 degrees Celsius. The control pigs died but those who had been preserved had around a 90% survival rate following heart restarts. At the moment the technique would be useful when it came to emergency procedures following injuries classed as being severe, and in situations where there would only have been a survival rate of 7%.
The US Army is behind the funding of the project and the whole idea of being able to suspend people came as the result of the Vietnam War. Military surgeons found that one of the leading causes of soldier’s death was losing blood within the first 5 and up to 20 minutes after sustaining an injury. Around one third of soldiers suffered from wounds that they would have been able to survive, if they were in an emergency room. Suspended animation as we know it thanks to sci-fi films, is still a long way in the future, the scientists can only preserve people for about four hours. However this could be plenty of time to save lives.