The ability to breathe is an essential part of being alive, as I’m sure you know…
And without that ability, all other lifesaving efforts sort of fly out the window.
This really hit home for John Kheir, MD, of the Department of Cardiology at Boston Children’s Hospital, back in 2006, after he cared for a young girl who suffered brain injury from a serious case of pneumonia that caused drastically low oxygen levels and bleeding into her lungs.
Despite the efforts of Kheir and his team, the young girl died before she could be placed on a heart-lung machine. Kheir’s frustration with the situation led him to gather a team to search for an alternative way to deliver oxygen to the blood.
Kheir’s main focus during his research was based on providing fast blood oxygenation to patients who were completely unable to breathe on their own because of acute lung failure or an obstructed airway.
…[divers or astronauts] could carry around something similar to a CamelBak that’s attached to an IV, allowing them to operate without having to breathe at all!
Their solution to this: Using a device called a sonicator, which utilizes high-intensity sound waves to mix oxygen and lipids together, the team, led by researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital, designed tiny, gas-filled microparticles that can be injected directly into the bloodstream to quickly oxygenate the blood.
The process traps oxygen gas inside particles averaging 2-4 micrometers in size. The resulting solution ended up being composed of about 70% pure oxygen by volume and proved to mix very efficiently with human blood.
The microparticles are made up of a single layer of lipids (fatty molecules) that surround a tiny pocket of oxygen gas, and are delivered in a liquid solution.
And according to Kheir, the microparticle solutions are also very portable and could stabilize patients in a variety of emergency situations, buying time for paramedics, emergency clinicians or intensive-care clinicians to more safely place a breathing tube or perform other lifesaving therapies.
The medical applications for a technology like this are limitless.
Vials of this solution could become a standard-issue item for emergency responders like ambulance, paramedics and firefighters. Even police officers could be trained to administer a lifesaving injection under appropriate circumstances.
They could also be issued to military troops serving overseas or even be available to humanitarian workers operating in high-risk areas around the world.
In fact, every code cart in every hospital, every ambulance and transport helicopter could be equipped with these injections to help stabilize victims who are having trouble breathing.
It’s exciting stuff.
And while I’m all for medical breakthroughs, you know that in my heart, I’m really a space nerd….
So I’m curious what other applications we might see for a modified version of this technology.
For instance, in the movie The Abyss, the explorers’ suits are filled with liquid oxygen that allows them to breathe in a different (and more efficient?) way. Is something like that possible here? And even more importantly, or at least, to me, more exciting, what are the other applications?
Right now Kheir claims that the injections would not be administered for more than 15-30 minutes, since the fluid carrying the microparticles would overwhelm the blood.
But if the technology could be improved, might we be looking at a future where divers or astronauts no longer need large, bulky air packs? Instead, they could carry around something more similar to a CamelBak that’s attached to an IV, allowing them to operate without having to breathe at all!
Pretty cool, if you ask me.
Let’s keep our fingers crossed that Kheir doesn’t hit any snags in bringing this to fruition. The sooner it’s available to the public, the sooner we can start doing some fun stuff with it.