Photo: D. Kunkel/Dennis Kunkel Microscopy, Inc.; D. Bell/Harvard University; J. Kheir/Children’s Hospital Boston; C. Porter/Chris Porter Illustration
When a person can’t get enough oxygen through their lungs, they usually die. Each of our cells needs oxygen to survive, and when there’s just not enough around they stop working.
A new “oxygen foam” developed by Dr. John Kheir, a researcher and emergency room physician at Children’s Hospital Boston, and his team, could prolong the body’s ability to withstand non-working lungs by delivering oxygen straight into the blood.
Blood returning from the body to the heart is normally sent to the lungs where it is replenished with oxygen in the alveoli, the tiny thin air sacks in the lungs that let oxygen and carbon dioxide through.
These get filled and blocked with fluid when a patient has a severe lung injury, and then blood passes through the lungs without picking up any oxygen.
When the lungs are blocked by fluid or when patients are unable to breathe due to severe lung injury, the patient will end up with severely low oxygen levels.
These low oxygen levels lead to organ failure within minutes.
The new oxygen foam bypasses the lungs as it's injected directly into the veins.
This syringe carries life-saving particles of oxygen gas, injected through an intravenous line. It looks white and flows like water.
The microparticle is a bubble of pure oxygen gas that's surrounded by a single layer of fatty molecules known as lipids and stabilizing agents. The oxygen gas bubbles are delivered in a liquid solution.
In the veins, microparticles delivered by an intravenous catheter are shown bringing oxygen gas into immediate proximity with red blood cells, so that the oxygen transfer that was supposed to happen in the lungs now takes place in the patients' veins.
When they encounter a red blood cell without oxygen, the particles immediately transfer that oxygen to the cells, which move throughout the body.
When a microparticle comes into contact with a red blood cell lacking oxygen, oxygen is released and binds to the cell within milliseconds. The particle's lipid shell breaks down and is metabolized by the body.
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