It sounds like science fiction or magic, like when Harry Potter discovered he could breathe underwater with Gillyweed. But now scientists have developed microparticles injected into the bloodstream that can keep a person alive without breathing.
Science Daily reports that researchers at Boston Children's Hospital have designed tiny, oxygen filled microparticles that can be injected directly into the bloodstream. The breakthrough would mean that patients who are unable to breathe because of an obstructed airway or acute lung failure would be able to get oxygen to their blood quickly to avoid brain injury and heart failure.
The study, published in Science Transitional Medicine, tested the microparticles, made up of a single layer of fatty molecules that surround a tiny pocket of oxygen gas which is added to a liquid solution. When it was injected into animals with low blood oxygen levels, it restored oxygen saturation to near-normal levels within seconds.
When the trachea was completely blocked, that can happen from choking or a severe injury, the infusion kept the animals alive for 15 minutes without them taking a single breath and reduced the incidence of heart attack and organ injury.
Researcher Dr.John Kheir, from the cardiology department at Boston Children's Hospital, says,"This is a short-term oxygen substitute -- a way to safely inject oxygen gas to support patients during a critical few minutes." "Eventually, this could be stored in syringes on every code cart in a hospital, ambulance or transport helicopter to help stabilize patients who are having difficulty breathing."
It would buy doctors and paramedics more time, but Science Daily reports that the treatment would only work for a short time, between 15 and 30 minutes because the fluid that they are carried in, would overload the blood if used for any longer periods. The microparticles would likely only be administered for a short time, between 15 and 30 minutes, because the fluid they are carried in, would overload the blood if used for much longer.
Kheir says the microparticles are different from blood substitutes that can also carry oxygen but don't work when the lungs are not functioning. The new microparticles are designed for times when the lungs have completely shut down.
Gizmodo says Kheir got the idea of injectable oxygen, after he treated a young girl in 2006. She suffered a lung hemorrhage caused by pneumonia but died before the medical team could get her into a heart-lung machine.
Gizbodo reports Kheir saying when he and a team of chemical engineers, particle scientists, and medical doctors first tested the idea it was like magic. "We drew each other's blood, mixed it in a test tube with the microparticles, and watched blue blood turn immediately red, right before our eyes." They continued to test various concentrations and sizes of microparticles to get the best effects and make them safe for injection.
While its medical applications are revolutionary, it also makes the realm of some sci-fi ideas seem more plausible.