WASHINGTON — It sounds like something out of a sci-fi novel. But it just might be the future of trauma medicine.
The Food and Drug Administration gave some of the busiest trauma centers in the country approval to test what some might call a controversial theory. Is it possible to take someone who has technically bled to death and suspend them in time, giving surgeons a precious hour or two to repair the damage before bringing the person back to life?
Researchers have been testing the concept in animals for decades. Now, the FDA says they can try it in a total of 10 patients across the country — men and women with shooting and stabbing wounds who normally would be declared dead.
“The idea is don’t declare them dead, rather try this maneuver to save their life,” says Dr. Babak Sarani, chief of trauma and acute care surgery at George Washington University Hospital.
The hospital is not one of the five hospitals taking part in the trial, but Sarani has worked and consulted with many of the doctors involved on the project, including the lead team at the UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh. He is excited by the potential for a medical breakthrough, calling it “the cutting edge of medicine right now.”
But at the same time, he admits that to many people, “it is bordering on science fiction, it is bordering on crazy.”
The procedure is called “emergency preservation and resuscitation.” It involves quickly flushing the body with ice cold saline before the cells have a chance to actually die, putting the patient in a state of limbo before being rushed to the operating room.
“That would give us some period of time to go in as surgeons, figure out why they bled to death, where the holes are in their arteries, what damage has occurred to their various organs,” says Sarani.
Once the repairs are made, the delicate task begins of restoring blood flow, warming the body, and resuscitating the patient.
It’s worked in experiments on animals — most notably a study on 40 pigs at the University of Arizona in 2000 that underwent the procedure with a 90 percent success rate.
Sarani says the big question now is: Could it work on humans?
The goal of the 10 patient trial is to get at least a partial answer, and determine whether the whole concept of temporary suspended animation is even feasible.
“This is the closest we will ever come to curing death that I can think of in the foreseeable future,”