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Thursday, May 09, 2013

Scientists create "injected breathing": breakthrough could save lives of millions

"Liquid breathing" from The Abyss.
Do not try this at home.
Remember in James Cameron's movie The Abyss, where Ed Harris' character was put into that funky diving suit which got filled with "breathing fluid" and he had to respirate through the liquid in order to survive a deep, deep dive?

(Incidentally, that was in 1989 and at the time it wasn't far from reality.  The mouse from the earlier scene that the fluid is demonstrated on?  That was not a special effect folks!  The mouse was actually breathing with that stuff!)

How about one better than that?  Say... put a needle in your arm and shoot yourself up with breathable oxygen?

Research scientist at Boston Children's Hospital have come up with a neat trick and it could revolutionize much of modern medicine: a nanoparticle which can be injected into a person and provide enough oxygen to maintain short-term "breathing".

From the article at TechWench.com...
This finding has the potential to save millions of lives every year. The microparticles can keep an object alive for up to 30 min after respiratory failure. This is accomplished through an injection into the patients’ veins. Once injected, the microparticles can oxygenate the blood to near normal levels. This has countless potential uses as it allows life to continue when oxygen is needed but unavailable. For medical personnel, this is just enough time to avoid risking a heart attack or permanent brain injury when oxygen is restricted or cut off to patients.
The microparticles used are composed of oxygen gas pocketed in a layer of lipids. A Lipid is a natural molecule that can store energy and act as a part of a cell membrane, they can be made of many things such as wax, vitamins, phospholipids, and in this case fat is the lipid that stores the oxygen.
These microparticles are around two to four micrometers in length and carry about three to four times the oxygen content of our own red blood cells. In the past, researchers had a difficult time succeeding as prior tests caused gas embolism. This meant that the gas molecules would become stuck trying to squeeze through the capillaries. They corrected this issue by packaging them into small deformable particles rather ones where the structure was rigid.

Okay, I don't see how this could maintained for very long, before the carbon dioxide has to be expelled out of a person's system and that's one of the bigger functions of the lungs.  In fact, the 30 minutes limit cited in the article is very hard to believe, truth be known.  Even a few minutes without CO2 being exhaled would be fatal.  There would definitely be significant and possibly permanent damage.

But for things like localized injuries, this certainly could be extremely useful.  I'm also wondering how it could be used in therapies to fight oxygen-unfriendly situations like infection and most kinds of cancer.