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The Periscope

Curing Ignorance Through the Lens


Suspended Animation is Within Our Grasp

Science fiction becomes reality as doctors prepare to bring suspended animation to human patients.

The typical high-trauma patient enters the emergency room with less than a 7 percent chance of survival. Constraints of time are the biggest problem— doctors often have mere minutes to stop a patient’s bleeding and restart their heart while struggling against potentially fatal difficulties. However, a team of doctors at Pittsburgh’s UPMC Presbyterian Hospital have been granted permission to begin human trials on a procedure that could give doctors hours of much-needed extra time. After successful attempts on lab animals between 2002 and 2010, doctors are ready to bring “emergency preservation and resuscitation” to human patients.

“We are suspending life,” explains Samuel Tisherman, who is leading the trial, “but we don't like to call it suspended animation because it sounds like science fiction.” The process involves replacing a patient’s blood with a cold saline solution that rapidly cools the body to around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, stopping all cellular activity and rendering the patient clinically dead. The doctors have about two hours to repair the patient’s injuries and pump the blood back into their body to bring them back to life. This procedure will initially be tested on ten patients with traumatic injuries who do not respond to standard resuscitation.

Photo by Bolshakov, licensed under Creative Commons.