Written by Loren Grush
When a patient suffers from acute lung failure or a blocked airway, their blood needs oxygen – and fast. Without enough blood flow to the heart and brain, he or she can suffer from cardiac arrest or massive brain damage.
But often times, the complex machines needed to keep blood oxygenated are not so readily available. So what if there was a temporary fix for patients who need oxygen in a hurry?
That solution may well be on its way. A team of researchers at Boston Children’s Hosptial have developed tiny, oxygen-filled microparticles that can be injected straight into a person’s veins in order to quickly oxygenate a person’s blood, giving doctors or paramedics more time to perform more complex life-saving procedures.
According to Dr. John Kheir, of the department of cardiology at Boston Children’s Hospital and the study’s lead author, the motivation to design these microparticles came to him after a tragic incident occurred with one of his patients in 2006.
“I was taking care of a cute redhead girl in ICU who had severe pneumonia,” Kheir told FoxNews.com. “She didn’t have a breathing tube at the time, and all of a sudden she had a pulmonary hemorrhage – when lung tissue gets damaged and actually erodes into the pulmonary arteries.
“Her lungs filled up with blood and she went into cardiac arrest,” Kheir continued. “So we put her on an ECMO machine… [which] removes blood from the body, transfers it to a machine that exposes it to oxygen and then puts it back in the body. We were able to get her onto that machine, which requires a surgical procedure. So that took about 25 minutes, but during that time her brain was very deprived of oxygen and it was severely injured.”
While pulmonary hemorrhages happen very rarely, Kheir realized that many patients could benefit from a temporary method for restoring oxygen that’s less invasive. After working with various chemical engineers, six years later Kheir and his team have developed their microparticles that successfully restored oxygen in the blood of mice.