The Real Cryonics: Human Trials Begin for Suspended Animation Technique
The human race is finally ready for suspended animation. This month, UPMC Presbyterian Hospital will attempt human trials for a technique used to treat wounds that should be lethal in order to buy doctors time to save the patient. The body temperature of 10 knife and gunshot wound victims will be cooled to the point that the body's need for oxygen are reduced and bodily functions essentially stop altogether, but the patient will still be alive.
Many science fiction works have explored the idea of "freezing" people in order to allow them to travel through space or to save their lives, usually by waiting until technology advances enough that their wounds or illnesses are treatable. In reality, however, the patients will be cooled in a much more subtle way than being encased in a block of ice or carbonite. Rather than applying the cold temperatures externally, the doctors will apply them internally. The doctors will remove all of the patient's blood and cool it before returning it to the body. This technique will only be used in case of emergency, defined as sustaining wounds that have less than a 7% survival rate, when the patients have lost more than half of their blood.
"We are suspending life, but we don't like to call it suspended animation because it sounds like science fiction," said Doctor Samuel Tisherman, the surgeon leading the trial. "So we call it emergency preservation and resuscitation." There's nothing necessarily wrong with sounding like science fiction, considering works like Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" for example, which predicted the use of in vitro fertilization on humans. And science fiction seems to have predicted the general methodology of this treatment as well, but there you have it.
Anecdotal evidence supports the validity of this treatment method; Swedish skier Anna Bagenholm survived for almost an hour and a half without oxygen while she was in freezing water and under a layer of ice, and Mitsutaka Uchikoshi survived without food or water for 24 days by entering a state of hypothermic hibernation.
This treatment was successfully performed on pigs by Dr. James Rhee in 2000. The doctors cut the pigs' arteries with scalpels, wounds that should have been fatal, and then lowered their body temperatures by cooling their blood. All of the control pigs- or the pigs whose temperatures remained at normal levels- died. Warming the pigs at a medium speed resulted in a whopping 90% survival rate, while warming at a slow speed had a 50% success rate and warming at a fast speed had a 30% success rate. The pigs who lived suffered no permanent damage.
While this trial is not at typical science fiction levels quite yet (the human body will only be in this state for a few hours), it is definitely a step in the right direction towards Han Solo-style preservation.
Credit: 20th Century Fox