Using poison gas for "suspended animation"

A biologist is studying how poison gas can be used to induce a state of "suspended animation" in small animals. Someday, it might even work on people. The idea is that if someone has suffered a critical injury, the technique could be used to delay death so that emergency care could be administered. Roth, a MacArthur "Genius," has had some success with mice. He used hydrogen sulfide to dramatically drop the rodents' breathing rate and reversed the process after six hours. It hasn't scaled up to larger animals so far, but he's working on it. Meanwhile, other techniques to slow metabolism for similar purposes are also showing promising. From CNN:
 Cnn 2009 Health 10 09 Cheating.Death.Suspended.Animation Art.Suspended.Animation "You get a state of suspended animation and the creatures do not pass away, and that's the basis of what we see as an alternative way to think about critical care medicine," Roth says. "What you want to do is to have the patient's time slowed down, while everyone around them [like doctors] move at what we would call real time."

If the patient's time -- the process of your death -- were slowed down, doctors would have more time to fix you. In medicine, time is key. An analogy is the history of open heart surgery. For years, surgeons had the technical tools to make simple repairs on the heart, but they couldn't help patients until the development of the heart-lung machine made it possible to preserve the body for more than a few minutes without a heartbeat...

Other researchers are exploring different approaches to tweak metabolism in a critical care setting. A group in Minnesota is developing a drug based on chemicals found in hibernating squirrels. Dr. Philip Bickler, an anesthesiologist at the University of San Francisco Hospital, is also studying animals, including whales and dolphins -- mammals like us, except that they can hold their breath for two hours underwater even during vigorous activity. Bickler says, "There's a lot of potential there. It hasn't been studied in extreme detail, but there may be new ways to protect human tissue from injury.
"Scientists hope work with poison gas can be a lifesaver"


  1. This theory has been in the works for a while. Space travel is another use – obviously in a suspended state less resources (water, air) are consumed. Too bad they cant wake them back yet.

  2. Liane: Doctor! Did you find out what’s wrong with him?
    Doctor: I’m afraid he’s running out of time.
    Liane: Why? What’s wrong with him?
    Doctor: It’s his time. It’s running out.
    Liane: Well what does he need?
    Doctor: He needs to have more time.
    Liane: What can we do?
    Doctor: Well, I suppose we could try a time transplant. I’ll have to call in a specialist.

  3. When I saw the pic the first thing that came to mind was:

    “He’s doin’ it, but he ain’t diggin’ it!”

  4. Epic win for emergency medical care if they can get this to work.

    Although, this will probably just end up helping rich narcissists avoid death and/or “time travel” to the future, which can’t be good for anyone (look at what Dr. Evil almost accomplished with similar circumstances).

    1. I’m pretty sure that “pass away” was inside Roth’s quotation marks. CNN might have leaned on him to dumb it down(or worse, might have just mangled his quote); but, as presented, it isn’t clearly CNN’s fault.

  5. If patients have cancer, AIDS or some currently-untreatable ailment, doctors could put them in suspended animation until the day when science has found an effective treatment.

  6. In the first Buck Rogers story he went into a coma from exposure to a gas leak in an abandoned mine. 500 years would be pushing it but it’s interesting that there could be a shred of science in that plot device.

  7. If it were a cheap enough procedure, it might be good to put people in this state until we can figure out universal health care. Or doctors offices and hospitals can do it until they figure out what the patient’s existing benefits cover.

  8. Conceptually, not too far from what happens if you go under the ice in a lake or river. Happened to a guy I used to know. Was clinically dead for 10-20 minutes, but the cold slowed down his metabolism enough that there was little in the way of side effects.

  9. Sweet as. Can someone let me know when this is possible, I’d quite like to test this technology on some kind of giant radiation poisoned space craft. Remind me to bring my cat with me.

  10. Keep in mind that hydrogen sulfide is one of the chemicals that make farts stink. So imagine being trapped in a chamber breathing nothing but flatulence until you pass out.

    Still want to try this?

  11. Well it is about time we found a use for all that poison gas we payed for………. and I bet you thought it was only good for killing people, but then again if you killed them with it, and it also sent them into suspended animation, then did you kill them?

    I think I need a lie down, and a drink!

  12. Some EMTs are already carrying chilled saline around for a similar purpose. Perfusing cardiac victims with it slows down their metabolism and buys time.

Comments are closed.