Friday, May 10, 2013

No breath, no pulse – but alive

Researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital have designed a liquid solution that can be injected directly into the bloodstream to quickly oxygenate the blood. Suspended in the solution are tiny, gas-filled microparticles, each surrounded by a membrane of fat and containing 3 to 4 times as much oxygen as a red blood cell. Cardiologist John Kheir explains, “This is a short-term oxygen substitute—a way to safely inject oxygen gas to support patients during a critical few minutes. Eventually, this could be stored in syringes on every code cart in a hospital, ambulance or transport helicopter to help stabilize patients who are having difficulty breathing.” The injection is able to keep a patient alive for up to 30 minutes after respiratory failure.
I remember the headlines generated in the summer of 2012 when the former Vice President of the U.S. had an assistive device implanted to help his failing heart. The New York Times explains, "His new mechanical pump, a partial artificial heart known as a ventricular assist device, leaves patients without a pulse because it pushes blood continuously instead of mimicking the heart’s own beat. Most pulse-less patients feel nothing unusual, but the devices do pose significant risks of infection. They are implanted as a last resort either for permanent use or as a bridge to transplant until a donor heart can be found." A year later, 5 patients are living with a new complete continuous-flow artificial heart designed by cardiologists Bud Frazier and Billy Cohn. Turbines replace the heart, which is removed, and keep blood circulating without mimicking the organ's pumping rhythm. Says Cohn, “I think we’re on the verge, right now, of solving the artificial-heart problem for good. All we had to do was get rid of the pulse.”

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