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:
"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.
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