New Particles Inject Life-Saving Oxygen Into Blood

By Chelsea Whyte on June 29, 2012 8:45 PM EDT

blood cell art
A new liquid can deliver oxygen straight to the bloodstream, coming to the rescue in case of blocked airways or punctured lungs. (Photo: Creative Commons: Brian Legate)

An obstructed airway or lung failure can stop someone breathing and cause cardiac arrest and brain injury. People in these situations need oxygen in their blood, and they need it fast.

Researchers have created a solution to this problem. By creating microparticles that trap oxygen gas inside a fatty membrane only 2 to 4 micrometers in size - certainly not visible to the naked eye - they have created an oxygen delivery system that can be directly injected into the vein of a person with a blocked airway.

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"We packaged the gas within small particles," Kheir told Fox News.  "It creates a lot of small particles rather than one large gas bubble, which allows them to disperse and break apart and navigate capillaries and arties.  The second thing it does is increase the surface area to volume ratio, so it allows for a huge surface area for the gas to transfer. It brings oxygen into very close proximity to red tissue and red blood cells - a very rapid transfer."

John Kheir, MD, of the Department of Cardiology at Boston Children's Hospital, and colleagues found that an infusion of these microparticles into animals with low blood oxygen levels restored blood oxygen saturation to near-normal levels within seconds. To find out how the microparticles would work in an emergency situation, the team blocked the trachea of the mice and found that the injection kept the animals alive for 15 minutes without a single breath, and reduced the incidence of cardiac arrest and organ injury.

"This is a short-term oxygen substitute-a way to safely inject oxygen gas to support patients during a critical few minutes," Kheir said. "Eventually, this could be stored in syringes on every code cart in a hospital, ambulance or transport helicopter to help stabilize patients who are having difficulty breathing."

The microparticles would only be used for about 15 to 30 minutes, because the fluid that carries them may overload the blood if used for longer periods.

Kheir also notes that the particles are different from blood substitutes, which carry oxygen but are not useful when the lungs are unable to oxygenate them. Instead, the microparticles are designed for situations in which the lungs are completely incapacitated.

"Some of the most convincing experiments were the early ones," he says. "We drew each other's blood, mixed it in a test tube with the microparticles, and watched blue blood turn immediately red, right before our eyes."

Kheir had the idea of an injected oxygen solution started after he had to treat a little girl in 2006. Because of a lung hemorrhage caused by pneumonia, the girl sustained severe brain injuries which, ultimately, lead to her death before the medical team could place her in a heart-lung machine, reports Gizmodo.

He's been working since that time with a bevy of other scientists to make this serum a reality.

"The effort was truly multidisciplinary," he said. "It took chemical engineers, particle scientists and medical doctors to get the mix just right."

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