An alert student brought to my attention an article about new approaches the medical community is taking to death and resuscitation. Traditionally, we have emphasized the need to provide immediate treatment to those whose hearts have stopped. However, by doing so, we may be making matters worse.

It appears that the muscle cells of the heart do not immediately begin to die when their supply of oxygen ceases. Instead, cells die when resuscitation efforts restart the supply of oxygen. Apoptosis mechanisms appear to be triggered by the restart.

When heart-lung bypass machines, used during open heart surgery, were used to maintain the flow of nutrients and oxygen to the brain and other organs until the heart could safely be restarted, 80% of cardiac arrest patients survived. Using traditional methods to treat cardiac arrest saves about 15% of similar patients. 

We have known for a long time that people who have “near-drowning” experiences in freezing water can be resuscitated after far more time than people in warm water. This cooling process is now being used to slow down destructive processes of restarting the heart after a cardiac arrest. The most effective means of cooling appears to be the use of an “ice slurry,” a process borrowed from technology used to cool entire buildings. 




INTERNAL ICE SLURRY — An ice slurry fills the lungs and, if necessary, the area surrounding the carotid arteries. The blood passing through these “heat exchangers” is rapidly cooled. Chest compressions send the cooled blood to the brain.





Dr. Lance Becker of UPenn is a strong advocate of these research efforts. You can see a video of Dr. Becker describing the process here.


bayley · May 8, 2007 at 10:17 pm

This article is very interesting because people normally think that the sooner the care is provided, the better chance the person has at recovery. This information is important for people to know in case they are ever in a situation where they might want to provide immediate aid. Of course the organs in the body are all connected to each other, but I noticed that they are not as reliant on each other as I originally thought. I was under the impression that if the brain stopped, then that would in turn stop the heart and other vital organs. Apparently, the brain can still continue to function without a working heart. The article stated that as long as the brain was supplied with fluids and nutrients, it could keep working while the heart was stopped and waiting to be restarted.
The “ice slurry” seems like a large advancement in medical technology. I am very curious to see what other ways we come up with in the future to manipulate the human body. Keeping current on these kinds of discoveries are important because they could potentially save someone’s life.

LaurenBabek · May 15, 2007 at 4:08 pm

I think this new procedure is great; anything that saves lives gains major points in my book. But in reference to the article, I find it extremely ironic that once we are “dead,” the one thing that has kept us alive our entire life (oxygen) can potentially decrease our chances of resuscitation or, more or less, “kill us further.” To actually reduce oxygen uptake and slow metabolism seems outrageous during this crucial matter, but now knowing that a cell cannot distinguish between a cancer cell and a cell being reperfused with oxygen during this state of existence, it makes perfect sense that doctors are trying to incorporate this internal ice slurry method into their medical practices.

lex · May 17, 2007 at 2:39 pm

It’s incredibly ironic that what we’ve been doing is actually so harmful. I am very interested in the development in this, as would most people, but especially if it has to do with people who have heart attacks. I want to know what to do if my dad suffers one. Hopefully this new technology and research arrives in a speedy manner.

genevieve · May 18, 2007 at 4:52 pm

In this circumstance, would the doctor be treating a patient who is technically already dead? And in waiting for an extended period of time to resuscitate the patient, are they then bringing a person back to life? I think this new form of treatment brings up some ethical issues that will need to be addressed.

danieceloomis · June 5, 2007 at 8:50 pm

I find this new research to be extremely interesting but also controversial. It’s hard enough to determine whether or not our loved ones should be put to rest rather than remain a “vegetable,” but now we realize that there may be a way to resuscitate their life in a new way with ice flurry technology. It’s also scary to me that the body can’t tell between something that makes our cells die (cancer) and the essential ingredient that makes our cells alive (oxygen). We like to think that our body is so far advanced, yet it is confused by a matter that is life-threatening.

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