Suspended Animation is the technique of literally putting life on hold. It is the temporary suspension of the important body functions while remaining alive. This technique is going through clinical trials at the University of Maryland and the University of Pittsburgh. “Emergency Preservation and Resuscitation” is the scientific term coined to this technique. A team of surgeons have recently started clinical trials for the EPR technique in a hospital at Pittsburgh.
A slight delay in the treatment of traumatic injuries can be the difference between life and death. If the surgeons could somehow “pause life” and continue with the treatment, they would have ample time to cure the injury. The technique of suspended animation has been believed to serve the purpose. However, it has not been practised on humans yet.
In the technique of suspended animation, a condition known as hypothermia is induced, where the body is flushed with ice-cold fluids, thereby, reducing the core body temperature below 10℃. This decreases the need for oxygen by the human body. This is a form of human hibernation and is similar to hibernation in animals. This is applied during traumatic conditions such as cardiac arrest.
The state of hypothermia is only applicable for two hours. The blood in our body is swapped with very cold salt water. The cells in our body cannot survive without blood. The blood carries the oxygen required by the cells to carry out its functions. But at very low temperatures all the cellular activities stop and the cells can survive without oxygen, without causing any major damage to the tissues or organs.
Reducing body temperature also prevents further blood loss in trauma patients. If the blood flow to the brain at normal temperature stops, it might cause irreparable damage to the body. Therefore, it is essential to stop the blood loss.
Also read: Human Brain
Medical Procedure Proposed for Suspended Animation
The process of suspended animation is proposed in the following steps.
- This technique is applied to patients with deep wounds like that of a stab or a gunshot. The cardiac arrest sufferers who have lost their pulse are also subjected to this trial.
- A large tube is then placed in the aorta directly.
- Since the brain does not survive more than 4 to 5 minutes without the blood supply, the supply of the cold salt solutions is prioritized to the brain through the heart.
- The solution is then swapped with the remaining blood of the body.
- The doctors need to repair the trauma injuries within two hours because the body cannot stay hypothermic for more than two hours.
- The salt solution is then replaced with the blood again.
In case the human heart does not start functioning on its own, it is resuscitated with the heart-lung bypass machine.
This technique was experimented on 40 pigs by Peter Rhee in the year 2000. The trauma scenarios were simulated in the pigs. The body temperature of the pigs was reduced to carry out the suspended animation. As a result, 90% of the pigs in the experiment group survived, while all the pigs in the control group died. The surviving pigs were absolutely healthy without any physical or cognitive impairment.
No humans have undergone any trials to date. The trials will come into play when the right patients are made available to the surgeons.
Also read: Difference Between Sleep and Hibernation
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is a suspended animation?
Suspended Animation is the technique of literally putting life on hold. Or in other words, it is the temporary suspension of the important body functions while remaining alive.
2. What factor is deemed important in inducing suspended animation?
Suspended animation employs a condition known as hypothermia, where the body is flushed with ice-cold fluids, thereby, reducing the core body temperature below 10℃. Hence, cold temperatures are an important factor.
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