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Breathing optional: Scientists develop injectable oxygen

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If you’re anything like us, you’re always looking for a more convenient, efficient way to live your life. You’ve got insulated two-pane windows, a phone that doubles as a television, music player and email device, and your haircut is both attractive and a functional shield against the sun’s deadly UV radiation. You’re a streamlined testament to mankind’s ingenuity, yet there’s one element of your existence that you’ve always felt was a bit clunky. A bit antiquated. In today’s rush-rush 24/7 world, who has time to breathe?

Fortunately for your bizarrely specific issue, science now has a solution: Oxygen microparticles that can be injected directly into the human bloodstream, completely negating the laborious, time-intensive process of inhaling and, barring any unforeseen disasters, exhaling.

According to ScienceDaily, a group of scientists led by Dr. John Kheir of the Department of Cardiology at Boston Children’s Hospital developed the microparticles to aid patients unable to respirate on their own. These microparticles, which consist of a small pocket of oxygen gas surrounded by fatty lipids, are administered intravenously as part of a liquid solution, and once inside the human body the gaseous oxygen functions in much the same way it would had it been delivered through normal human breathing patterns. Effectively, this breakthrough allows doctors to provide necessary oxygen to patients while completely side-stepping the lungs — which is a great boon for anyone whose lungs are failing or whose airways are blocked.

Though these microparticles have yet to be tested extensively on humans, trial usage on animals shows very promising results. According to Kheir’s team, animals who received infusions of the oxygenated microparticles were able to survive “for 15 minutes without a single breath, and reduced the incidence of cardiac arrest and organ injury.”

Kheir hopes that this new development will allow medical workers to prolong the lives of patients unable to breathe on their own until proper medical treatment can be administered.  Now that the treatment has proven effective, Kheir’s next goal is to create a fully portable version of the solution that could easily be carried by EMTs, firefighters or anyone else routinely called upon to provide quick, stabilizing medical care in any setting outside of a hospital. “This is a short-term oxygen substitute — a way to safely inject oxygen gas to support patients during a critical few minutes,” Kheir says. “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.”

While scientists have previously attempted to directly administer oxygen to the blood, our bodies are simply not built to accept oxygen from any source but our own lungs. Experiments in IV oxygenation date back to the 19th century, though before this most recent attempt, the vast majority of these trials caused deadly gas embolisms in patients. Dr. Kheir’s method however, seems successful because of the highly technical way his team created its fancy new microparticles. According to ScienceDaily, “they used a device called a sonicator, which uses high-intensity sound waves to mix the oxygen and lipids together. The process traps oxygen gas inside particles averaging 2 to 4 micrometers in size. The resulting solution, with oxygen gas making up 70 percent of the volume, mixed efficiently with human blood.” Kheir claims that this method, unlike earlier efforts, gives his particles drastically increased surface area, thus enhancing their ability to pass oxygen directly to a patient’s red blood cells. Likewise, their tiny size allows Kheir’s microparticles to pass easily though the minute network of capillaries in the human body, preventing any sort of catastrophic gas build up within the circulatory system.

That’s all well and good — and given the prevalence of respiratory failure in our modern population should prove invaluable quite rapidly — but our heads are currently swimming with more futuristic uses for this technology. Imagine SCUBA diving into a deep trench without a heavy tank of air strapped to your back. Instead a pump full of oxygenated microparticles injects you every few minutes with a solution that completely removes your need to breathe. Likewise, imagine soldiers fighting an enemy keen on the use of chemical weapons; if our men and women don’t need to inhale possibly toxic air, even horrific, terrifying weapons like mustard gas become a minor annoyance that can be defeated with a simple pair of goggles and a face mask.