The crafty chemist

Sep 7

Chilling before surgery

Surgeons are pioneering a method of inducing extreme hypothermia in trauma patients so that their bodies shut down entirely during major surgery, giving doctors more time to perform operations.

Researchers are now set to begin the first human trials of the technique, which involves replacing a patient’s blood with a cold solution to rapidly chill body temperatures.

The cold treatment, which is being developed at Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and is featured in a BBC Two Horizon documentary, will see patient’s bodies being cooled to as low as 10 degrees C.

"If you drop the body’s core temperature and brain temperature down to 15 degrees C or 10 degrees C you are talking about 60 minutes and even 190 minutes of protection." 

"By cooling rapidly in this fashion we can convert almost certain death into a 90 per cent survival rate."

At normal body temperatures, brain death typically occurs in around four or five minutes as, at low oxygen levels, cells start to produce toxins that ultimately kill them.

By cooling the body so much, the cells are essentially put into a state of suspended animation that prevents this from happening.

John Elefteriades, the cardiac surgeon behind the operations, has found that patients who have undergone this type of surgery suffer no long term impairment to their brain function.

He said: “The body is essentially in real life suspended animation with no pulse, no blood pressure, no electrical waves in the brain. We didn’t find any evidence of functional impairment after the surgery.”

Cryogenics for the living. It’s a good time to be alive.