Science fiction has always paved the way for technology. Outlandish ideas of the future once believed to only exist in imaginative works have inspired such advancements as tasers, touch-screen computer tablets, and more. Martin Coope, inventor of the mobile phone, has even explicitly said that he drew upon Star Trek for ideas.
Now, suspended animation may become a real world technology medical professionals can use. Gunshot and knife wound victims seeking treatment at UPMC Presbyterian in Pittsburgh now have the option to receive suspended animation treatment, as seen in such works as Planet of the Apes and Lost in Space. It’s a procedure that cools patients’ bodies down to a temperature that nearly stops cellular activity–a state that’s considered neither alive nor dead–in order to save them from injuries or illnesses that might otherwise be fatal.
“We are suspending life, but we don’t like to call it suspended animation because it sounds like science fiction,” said Samuel Tisherman, a UPMC surgeon working on the suspended animation trial. “So we call it emergency preservation and resuscitation.”
The team at UPMC will use the experimental technique on 10 patients. Though it’s never been done on humans, surgeon Peter Rhee found that when emergency preservation and resuscitation was used on pigs, it yielded an incredible 90% survival rate.
Once a traumatically wounded patients enters the hospital, the medical team will remove all of the patient’s blood, replacing it with a saline solution. Doing so allows the team to chill the patient’s body to 50 degrees, which allows cells to function with less oxygen. At that point, the patient won’t be breathing or showing signs of brain activity, making them clinically dead.
Once the patient has entered such a state, doctors will have two hours to fix the injury. Once that’s done, they’ll replace the saline solution with blood, allowing the body to slowly reheat. Should the patient’s heart not restart, they’ll need to be resuscitated.
Though it’s not quite the perfect process it’s portrayed to be in science fiction, it’s certainly a huge step forward towards saving lives that would almost certainly be lost.