A study led by Massachusetts cardiologist John Keir has led to a discovery that could change lives: An injection that can help you survive without breathing. Like other recent scientific discoveries — such as the cryostasis a Pittsburgh hospital will use to suspend patients between life and death — this new invention sounds like something out of a science fiction novel, even though the science behind it is pretty simple.
The injection relies on micro-particles full of oxygen that, once injected into the bloodstream, can transfer oxygen into your red blood cells. The micro-particles are only 2-4 micrometers (a micrometer is a unit of measurement that adds up to one thousandth of a millimeter.) In the study, the micro-particles were suspended in a liquid; otherwise, they could have formed large bubbles, which might have been dangerous for the test subjects.
The micro-particle's structure can be compared to a ball of oxygen with lipid walls, which are types of molecules that include fats and oils. Upon injection, the oxygen entered the blood cells within just four seconds, and according to Keir, 70 percent of the oxygen in the micro-particles ends up entering the bloodstream. The method to creating the micro-particles? Sonication, otherwise known as the use of sound energy. The researchers in the study used sound waves to make the lipids form into micro-particles.
All this said, the experiment was conducted on rabbits and not humans. Still, the results were amazing: As the study explains, the rabbits survived for 15 minutes without breathing a bit of oxygen (the rabbits, by the way, had their windpipes blocked. We wouldn't want to be in their place).
So, in what direction will this research go? The researchers hope to be able to amend the micro-particles so that they can allow test subjects to survive for 30 entire minutes. However, this would be incredibly difficult, because the researchers would have to continue injecting fresh micro-particles.
While this invention isn't meant to replace oxygen, it could certainly be a good last resort should a person need oxygen — for example, a person whose lung has collapsed, or whose windpipe is blocked.