Suspended animation risky, could save lives

Suspended animation risky, could save lives (credit: Eunice Oh/) Suspended animation risky, could save lives (credit: Eunice Oh/)

University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) surgeons will soon begin human trials on suspended animation, which is more formally known in the medical community as emergency preservation and resuscitation, according to Medical Daily.

The technique is intended to give doctors more time to fix life-threatening wounds, such as gunshot or stab wounds, and has been a resounding success in non-human trials. The pigs used in those trials survived the procedure with no cognitive or physical impairments. The procedure will only be used on patients in cardiac arrest, and it involves replacing all the blood in the body with a cold saline solution, which induces a physical state very similar to hypothermia. If the procedure is successful, other hospitals will begin to implement it.

UPMC should be commended for its willingness to innovate and try potentially dangerous procedures in a cautious manner. Obviously, the hospital is not attempting the technique on any and all patients who come into the emergency room. According to Dr. Samuel A. Tisherman, the lead surgeon in these trials, speaking to The Huffington Post, the ideal patient for the procedure would be someone who was admitted to the hospital with a fatal gunshot or stab wound, and who did not respond to the conventional treatments the hospital currently employs.

Choosing only patients on the edge of death avoids the potential ethical minefield of using such extreme methods in human trials. However, the FDA does not require approval from the patient or the family, as the patient would die without some kind of extreme intervention.

The procedure itself sounds unnerving, like something out of science fiction, especially as the patient will be clinically dead for a few hours and then revived. Risky medical procedures, especially in human trials, should not be taken lightly; hospitals should carefully consider how they implement these techniques.

UPMC has clearly considered the risks and is going about these trials in a measured and methodical way. This unconventional technique has the potential to save lives.