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Surgeons put near-death humans into suspended animation for the first time

Suspended animation has been a longtime science-fiction dream (and sometimes nightmare) featured in everything from Alien to Futurama. Now, it’s been achieved for real by medics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, claims a report by New Scientist.

According to the publication, the technique — which is officially called emergency preservation and resuscitation (EPR) — could be used on patients with traumatic injuries. These people, who would have less than a 5% chance of survival otherwise, have suffered cardiac arrest as a result of injuries such as stabbings or gunshots. As a result, they could have lost upward of half their blood and had their heart stop beating.

The EPR process involves cooling a person to temperatures between 50- and 59-degrees Fahrenheit, replacing their blood with an ice-cold saline solution. This halts almost all of the patient’s brain activity, essentially rendering them dead. While the brain can normally survive for only around 5 minutes before irreversible brain damage sets in, cooling the body in this way stops the oxygen-guzzling cellular chemical reactions. The patient can then be moved to an operating theater where a surgical team has a couple of hours to patch up injuries that would otherwise prove fatal. After this, the patient can be warmed up and their heart restarted.

According to New Scientist, a patient has already been placed in suspended animation as part of a trial. The results of this trial will be announced at the end of 2020. No information has yet been made public about the number of people placed in suspended animation, or the success rate of the approach. The trial has the backing of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The human trial went ahead after the technique was shown to be effective in pigs with acute trauma.

“We felt it was time to take it to our patients,” Professor Samuel Tisherman said. “Now, we are doing it and we are learning a lot as we move forward with the trial. Once we can prove it works here, we can expand the utility of this technique to help patients survive that otherwise would not.”

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