dw2

17 March 2010

Suspended animation is within our grasp

Filed under: cryonics, death — David Wood @ 12:44 pm

You’re not dead until you’re warm and dead

That’s a saying mentioned by University of Washington Cancer Research Center suspended animation researcher Mark B Roth, in his recent TEDtalk “Suspended animation is within our grasp“.

The same phrase – You’re not dead until you’re warm and dead – is used as the title of a January 1982 Yankee magazine account by Evan Mcleod Wylie of a real life drama:

… The girl on the table was without visible signs of life, her body cold, her lips blue, her muscles flaccid. When Herman lifted her eyelids, he found the pupils of the eyes staring fixed and dilated. By all the usual signs, the girl was clinically dead, a victim of drowning.

A major medical discovery of recent years, however, has been that sometimes such victims of prolonged submersion may be recalled to life, The chances for a recovery depend upon several factors: the age of the victim; the length of time submerged; the temperature of the water; the efficiency of the initial rescue effort, including the crucial CPR; and the intensity and sophistication of the ensuing medical treatment.

The girl’s temperature was too low to register on an ordinary medical thermometer, but Nurse Anne Torres had used a rectal thermometer to obtain an internal temperature of 82 degrees Fahrenheit, the lowest anyone on the emergency medical team had ever encountered.

“She is so cold,” Herman said, “that there is a chance she might still be alive.”

He knew that he was looking at a case of acute hypothermia — a condition in which the central core temperature of the body is reduced far below normal limits. It begins when the core temperature falls from a normal 98.6 degrees to 95. As it drops to 88 degrees, all major body functions cease. In such cases the victims may enter a state in which body functions are so arrested that the brain may need little oxygen to survive, At the same time there is a sudden transfer of blood supply from the skin, muscles, and abdominal organs to the heart, lungs, and brain, which are most sensitive and dependent upon oxygen.

But if life does linger in such a case of severe ‘hypothermia, any sudden warming of the exterior body may cause such a shock as to bring death. Many experts believe that the proper medical treatment must be to restore the beat of the heart and then slowly rewarm the body from the core outward. The message today in emergency rooms and ambulances and rescue squads is, “No one is dead until he is warm and dead.”

Although Dr, Herman was a recent graduate of Tufts Medical School, he had participated in the treatment of an extraordinary case of hypothermia. At St. E1izabeth’s Hospital in Brighton, Massachusetts, he had been a member of a medical team led by Dr. Kenneth F, MacDonnell that had successfully treated Elizabeth “Libby” Margolis, 24, after she had been trapped in the back seat of a car that had been submerged in the winter-chilled Charles River for 25 minutes…

Mark Roth’s TEDtalk provides an up-to-the-minute report of some findings about suspended animation.  It includes a fascinating tale of a search for a chemical agent that can trigger de-animation of a mammal: a search with numerous failures before the serendipitous discovery of something that does work – hydrogen sulphide.

The core idea is that, ordinarily, if the supply of oxygen is reduced to a mammal, without reducing that organism’s demand for oxygen, that mammal will die.  However, if the demand can be reduced – via an agent that triggers the de-animated state – then the organism would subsequently withstand environments with reduced oxygen (and/or intense cold).

In such a state, the organism (such as a mouse) can also withstand significant loss of blood.  Similarly, if a heart attack has been suffered, much less heart damage ensues.  As Mark describes, there are many possible applications – including for humans.

This research, not unexpectedly, is of interest to the military – as a means to quickly treat battlefield trauma casualties.  You can read about some of Mark’s interplay with DARPA in a quirky 2008 Esquire magazine article, “The Mad Scientist Bringing Back the Dead…. Really“.

The research is also of clear interest to cryonicists – and to many others.  I recommend it!

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