Look out red blood cells, there’s a new guy in town, and he might be better than you. Tiny oxygen-filled microparticles have been injected into rabbits with blocked windpipes, keeping them alive for fifteen minutes! Read the full Nature News article here.
Researchers led by Dr. John Kheir at the Boston Children’s Hospital in Massachusetts, have successfully oxygenated the blood using these particles to bypass the lungs. The injected microparticles (yellow) interact directly with circulating red blood cells (red), and upon contact the oxygen from the particle diffuses into the red blood cells within seconds. The rabbits that survived for fifteen minutes without breathing seemed perfectly normal. They had regular blood pressure and heart rate, and showed no marks of damage to the heart, lung, or liver that would normally be caused by oxygen deprivation.
These microparticles are much safer than directly injecting oxygen gas into the blood stream because the gas can create large bubbles causing blockages. But microparticles are tiny balls of lipids filled with oxygen and suspended in liquid, meaning they present no danger of forming larger bubbles. Dr. Kheir expects that these could be used to keep a non-breathing human alive for about 30 minutes. Because they don’t recycle oxygen, new microparticles need to be added continuously and there are limits to the volume of liquid you can safely add to the blood stream. But nevertheless, I think 30 minutes would allow doctors a significant amount of time to unblock an airway or get an asthma attack under control, not to mention the brain damage that could be prevented.
If you think these oxygen microparticles seem incredible, have you heard of respirocytes? They are nanomachines that mimic red blood cells, and are able to deliver over 200 times more oxygen to the tissues than a normal red blood cell! These nanorobots are still theoretical, and have not been tested in animals. These respirocytes are about one eighth the size of a normal red blood cell are filled with highly pressurized oxygen and carbon dioxide gas. They release and gather oxygen and carbon dioxide at the appropriate times while cycling through the blood stream and lungs. If these respirocytes ever come to fruition, they would create super-humans! We could hold our breath underwater for hours, or run incredible distances and speeds without experiencing any muscle fatigue from lactic acid buildup.
I’ve been watching a lot of the Olympic trials lately, and I can’t help but wonder if someday they will have to test the athletes for respirocytes, or some other artificial oxygenation device. Maybe there will be a new class in the Olympics for robotically-enhanced athletes? I can hardly imagine the gold medal winning marathon time…