Suspended animation becomes a reality

Originally written for SCG Innovation Institute in 2015.

It’s something you would expect to see in a Star Trek movie, but suspended animation is about to become a reality for a team of surgeons in Pennsylvania this month.

The medical study, which is being conducted by the UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh, aims to see whether cooling the body of shooting or stabbing victims, once their hearts have stopped, will enable them to preserve brain functions long enough to perform life saving surgery on the victims.

The procedure (called EPR or Emergency Preservation and Resuscitation) involves inserting a cannula into the aorta and then flushing the cardiovascular system with cold saline, which will reduce the body temperature of the patient by an estimated 10 degrees Celsius.  This reduction in body temperature is believed to be the key to saving trauma victims, as the lower temperature slows biological processes as well as inhibits blood flow from the trauma wounds.

The cause of death in many shooting or stabbing victims is not trauma, but exsanguination; the extensive loss of blood due to internal or external haemorrhage.  The hypothermic state which will be induced in the patients can be sustained for approximately two hours; hopefully allowing enough time for surgeons to repair the trauma that would otherwise cause the patient to fatally bleed out.

The surgical team at UPMC will use the EPR cooling technique on 10 trauma patients whose injuries would otherwise be fatal.  The results from these patients will be compared against 10 patients with similar trauma, who are unable to undergo the EPR technique.  Once this quota is met, the results will be analysed and the technique refined if possible.  The 10 patient increments will continue until enough data points have been collected and the efficacy of the EPR technique is analysed and presented.

Although EPR may not be as dramatic as Wrath of Khan suspended animation pods, it has a great potential to save the lives of people who are suffering injuries which have proven to be fatal until now.

Author: Rebecca Millar

Rebecca is a freelance PR and Communications Specialist, Author, Science Writer, and Star Trek fan with a fondness for caffeine and all things geek. When she's not getting her comms specialist on, she's usually introverting Trekkie style, studying her Masters in Astronomy, or at her local fire brigade where she volunteers as a firefighter.

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