Communion Of Dreams


Have a shot of oxygen.

There are a lot of ways we die. Massive trauma. Heart failure. Diseases of the organs which cause other body systems to shut down. But one of the more common mechanisms of death is lack of oxygen in the blood, what is called hypoxemia in the medical community. Without adequate oxygen in your blood, your brain and other organs start to die at the cellular level within minutes (in most conditions).

Hypoxemia can be caused by many different things, including a wide range of diseases and a variety of trauma. But if you can keep the blood oxygenated, you can buy time to treat the underlying cause. In the case of someone who has drowned, for example, this can be as simple as CPR. In other cases a heart-lung machine can keep someone alive while awaiting a transplant.

The problem is that sometimes it is impossible to buy that time. Maybe CPR isn’t viable. Maybe you’re too far from a hospital for other immediate treatments. Maybe it’d just take too long to get someone stable. In which case, this might work:

n a new study, published online today in ScienceTranslational Medicine, he and colleagues report the development of microparticles filled with oxygen gas that can be injected directly into the bloodstream. The particles quickly dissolve, releasing the gas and keeping organs, such as the brain, from suffocating.

* * *

The microparticles are tiny bubbles whose surfaces are membranes already used clinically to administer chemotherapy drugs and ultrasound dyes. But while those microparticles release their contents slowly, Kheir and his collaborators designed oxygen-containing particles that would dissolve as soon as they hit the bloodstream. They then tested the microparticles in rabbits breathing air low in oxygen. Within seconds of receiving the microbubbles, the levels of oxygen in the rabbits’ blood rose from a dangerously low 70% to nearly 100% saturation, the ideal level.

Promising. Very promising. From the abstract of the paper:

We have developed an injectable foam suspension containing self-assembling, lipid-based microparticles encapsulating a core of pure oxygen gas for intravenous injection. Prototype suspensions were manufactured to contain between 50 and 90 ml of oxygen gas per deciliter of suspension. Particle size was polydisperse, with a mean particle diameter between 2 and 4 μm. When mixed with human blood ex vivo, oxygen transfer from 70 volume % microparticles was complete within 4 s.

As noted, this is based on very proven technology: liposomes. These lipid-bilayer artificial “cells” are commonly used to deliver drugs in the bloodstream, and they are very well understood. This new application changes the liposome construction so that it dissolves much more quickly, allowing the oxygen to infuse the bloodstream almost instantly.

It is currently in animal trials. But based on how well the technology is understood, and the potential benefit it offers for a wide variety of life-saving applications, we could easily see this approved for human trials in the near term, and available for deployment within a few years.

And I just may need to find a way to work it into the next book

Jim Downey

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