Doctors Will Put Patients In “Suspended” State To Treat Gunshots, Knife Wounds

By replacing a gunshot victim’s blood with a saline solution, the body’s temperature cools to a point where cellular activity is suspended, buying doctors some valuable time.

Doctors Will Put Patients In “Suspended” State To Treat Gunshots, Knife Wounds
[Image: Flickr user Red Janasun]

Emergency treatment for gunshot wounds is incredibly difficult. Stopping a gushing injury entails stuffing the cavity, or covering it with a gauze bandage until the victim makes it to the operating table.


But now, New Scientist reports that surgeons at the UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, are pioneering a new technique to buy surgeons some valuable time when treating gunshot patients. And it involves suspending them in a state between life and death.

Here’s how it works: Doctors replace almost all of the patient’s blood with a cold saline solution, effectively freezing the body. This stops almost all cellular activity from occurring. By inducing hypothermia, the thinking goes, the cells are able to respirate at a much slower rate, allowing vitals–like the brain–to get by with considerably less oxygen intake. Time is, in a way, suspended.

“We are suspending life, but we don’t like to call it suspended animation because it sounds like science fiction,” Samuel Tisherman, a surgeon at the hospital, who is leading the trial, tells New Scientist. “So we call it emergency preservation and resuscitation.”

Once the operation is complete, the blood is replaced, and, hopefully, the individual warms back to life.

The technique isn’t entirely new. It was first demonstrated successfully in pigs in 2002 at the University of Michigan Hospital in Ann Arbor. But later this month will mark the first time on-call doctors will be able to use the technique in the ER.

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Chris is a staff writer at Fast Company, where he covers business and tech. He has also written for The Week, TIME, Men's Journal, The Atlantic, and more.