This may seem like something out of a science fiction movie: researchers have designed microparticles that can be injected directly into the bloodstream to quickly oxygenate your body, even if you can’t breathe anymore. It’s one of the best medical breakthroughs in recent years, and one that could save millions of lives every year.
The invention, developed by a team at Boston Children’s Hospital, will allow medical teams to keep patients alive and well for 15 to 30 minute despite major respiratory failure. This should be enough time for doctors and emergency personnel to act without risking a heart attack or permanent brain injuries in the patient.
The solution has already been successfully tested on animals under critical lung failure. When the doctors injected this liquid into the patient’s veins, it restored oxygen in their blood to near-normal levels, granting them those precious additional minutes of life.
Particles of fat and oxygen
The particles are composed of oxygen gas pocketed in a layer of lipids, a natural molecule that usually stores energy or serves as a component to cell membranes. Lipids can be waxes, some vitamins, monoglycerides, diglycerides, triglycerides, phospholipids, or — as in this case — fats.
These fatty oxygen particles are about two to four micrometres in size. They are suspended in a liquid solution that can be easily carried and used by paramedics, emergency crews and intensive care personnel. The seemingly magic elixir carries “three to four times the oxygen content of our own red blood cells.”
Similar solutions have failed in the past because they caused gas embolism, rather than oxygenating the cells. According to John Kheir, MD at the Department of Cardiology at Boston Children’s Hospital, they solved the problem by using deformable particles, rather than bubbles: