May 27, 2014
This month, the world’s first attempts at placing humans in suspended animation using a new technique will take place at the UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania — not for space travel, but to save lives.
The technique will initially be used on 10 patients whose wounds would otherwise be lethal in an attempt to buy the surgeons some time. It works, as suggested by science fiction, by cooling the body — but not by applying an external temperature change.
Instead, a team of surgeons will remove all of the patient’s blood, replacing it with a cold saline solution. This will cool the body, slowing its functions to a halt and reducing the need for oxygen. Effects similar to this have been seen in accidents: Swedish Anna Bågenholm survived trapped under a layer of ice in freezing water for 80 minutes in a skiing accident; Japanese Mitsutaka Uchikoshi survived 24 days without food or water by entering a state of hypothermic hibernation.
“We are suspending life, but we don’t like to call it suspended animation because it sounds like science fiction,” Doctor Samuel Tisherman, the surgeon who will lead the trial, told New Scientist. “So we call it emergency preservation and resuscitation.”