FDA Approves Suspended Animation Human Trials

Giuseppe Macri Tech Editor
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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the first human trials for a science fiction-worthy medical treatment — suspended animation.

Later this month surgeons at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh will begin using a suspended animation technique to extend the time available to treat traumatic injuries, possibly making up the difference between life and death in emergency situations according to

While the typical sci-fi rendition of suspended animation usually involves freezing the entire body in a capsule of some sort, the real “emergency preservation and resuscitation” (EPR) procedure involves flushing a body with cold saline, reducing its temperature to 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit) and slowing cellular activity and biological processes — including blood flow — to prevent bleeding out.

This temporary method of suspended animation will give doctors an additional two hours to perform life-saving surgeries for patients with otherwise fatal conditions like those that go into cardiac arrest, which under normal circumstances has a seven percent chance of survival.

University of Arizona in Tucson surgeon Peter Rhee first experimented with the procedure on 40 pigs in 2000. After inflicting a fatal wound to simulate a type commonly experienced by humans, the pigs were cooled, operated on, and resuscitated with a 90 percent success rate. Zero percent were saved in the control group that did not undergo EPR.

None of the pigs that survived the procedure were recorded having any negative physical or cognitive repercussions. The full results were published in 2004.

“After we did those experiments, the definition of ‘dead’ changed,” Rhee told the New Scientist. “Every day at work I declare people dead. They have no signs of life, no heartbeat, no brain activity. I sign a piece of paper knowing in my heart that they are not actually dead. I could, right then and there, suspend them. But I have to put them in a body bag. It’s frustrating to know there’s a solution.”

Given the time-sensitive nature of such traumatic injuries that the first human test subjects will have sustained, the FDA is allowing doctors to perform the procedure without informed consent. The medical team has instead launched a marketing campaign, complete with a website, to inform the public and allow uninterested parties to opt out of potential candidacy. So far, no one has elected to opt out.

In its first real-use phase EPR will be administered to 10 trauma patients whose injuries would be deemed otherwise fatal, and compared against the survival rate of another 10 patients unable to undergo EPR because of the inevitable unavailability of the surgical team.

Data from the first phase of patients will then be analyzed and used to make adjustments to the technique where necessary, and the process will repeat itself until enough data has been gathered to make a determination about the effectiveness of suspended animation.

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