Medical Breakthrough Will Allow Patients to Live Without Breathing

A miraculous new biotechnological breakthrough could save thousands of lives. An injectable microparticle has been developed that can quickly oxygenate your blood even if you have lost the ability to breathe entirely.

The new microparticle could assist in situations where a patient has restricted breathing or has even stopped breathing entirely, preventing the patient from suffering from brain damage or cardiac arrest due to lack of oxygen. This extraordinary development could revolutionize trauma care entirely. 

Dr. John Kheir started developing of the microparticle while working at Boston Children’s Hospital of Cardiology. His inspiration for the breakthrough came as he was treating a small girl in 2006. She was in the ICU due to a severe case of pneumonia. Due to the disease she was suffering from pulmonary hemorrhage, meaning that her lungs were filling up with blood. The horrible condition put her in cardiac arrest. The medical team had to immediately drain the blood from her lungs over the next 25 minutes to restore her ability to breathe. Due to the lack of oxygen the girl suffered severe brain injuries and eventually died.

After that horrible experience, Kheir assembled a team consisting of engineers, scientists, and doctors to come up with a solution to this problem. From there, the team came up with the microparticle. The microparticle is oxygen gas placed in a pocket of lipids, a natural molecule that can store energy and is part of the cell membrane. The lipid of choice for this application was a fat, although in nature lipids cover a variety of substances from vitamin B to waxes.

The microparticles are incredibly small, two to four micrometers in length, and are extremely oxygenated, with about three to four times more oxygen in them compared to our own red blood cells. In the past, attempts were made with gas bubbles that had the oxygen contained in an inert gas such as argon. These previous attempts failed because they had a high risk of producing a gas embolism, a potentially fatal complication.

Microparticles have already had successful animal tests in rabbits. The full study can be read here in the June 2012 issue of Science Translational Medicine. The study's abstract says:

“When the microparticles were infused by intravenous injection into hypoxemic rabbits, arterial saturations increased within seconds to near-normal levels; this was followed by a decrease in oxygen tensions after stopping the infusions. The particles were also infused into rabbits undergoing 15 min of complete tracheal occlusion. Oxygen microparticles significantly decreased the degree of hypoxemia in these rabbits, and the incidence of cardiac arrest and organ injury was reduced compared to controls.”

To translate for those who do not remember their high-school biology, they injected the microparticles into extremely hypoxemic (meaning oxygen deprived) rabbits. The rabbits when from being hypoxemic to near-normal levels of oxygenated. This even persisted for up to 15 minutes even when the rabbits where unable to breathe entirely. This procedure severely decreased occurrence of cardiac arrest and organ injury compared to the control group of rabbits that did not receive the microparticles.

Although the procedure must make it through extensive human testing before being approved for widespread medical usage, it still represents a major breakthrough. If approved for human usage it could save thousands of lives and vastly increase the quality of after-life care for patients who cease breathing for an extended amount of time. Such a small invention could be a huge change in how trauma medicine works.