According to a New York Times article, surgeons at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center have been given approval to begin a unique clinical trial on certain trauma patients. In severe trauma patients, for example those with knife or gunshot wounds who have already lost so much blood that their heartbeat has ceased, the surgeons will rapidly replace the patient’s blood with ice-cold salt water before undertaking life-saving surgery.

Cooling the blood is routinely used to stop the heart before open-heart surgery. Lowering the body’s temperature lowers its metabolic rate, slowing the onset of tissue death and thus buying surgeons precious time. But replacing a patient’s blood entirely with ice-cold salt water is new. At such cold temperatures the patients will be devoid of brain activity, and thus the patient will appear to be dead.

Because of the unforeseen nature of their trauma, the patients in this study will not be in a position to give their informed consent. Nevertheless, the clinical trial apparently has been approved by whatever ethics committees needed to sign off on it. Presumably there is little to be lost, and everything to be gained, by at least giving it a try.

It’ll be interesting to hear the patients’ experiences of being “brought back” from a state of no brain activity.

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