“Suspended Animation” in the Popular Press

Reports in the popular press that “humans have been placed in suspended animation for the first time” have been widely circulated by advocates of cryonics. The UK tabloid Daily Star even talks of a “space travel barrier removed as docs freeze and revive human for first time.”

The actual procedure does not involve freezing (or subzero preservation) and the use of induced hypothermia for medical treatment is much older than these stories indicate. A noted scientist in the field of low temperature medicine comments:

“The news story is announcing human clinical trials of an idea called Emergency Preservation and Resuscitation (EPR) that’s been in preclinical development for more than 20 years.

The purpose is to buy time to surgically fix people who’ve “bled to death” (bled out to cardiac arrest), reperfuse them with warm blood, and then restart their heart.  Without cooling and repair of the cause of the fatal bleed before attempting the restart the heart, it’s usually impossible to resuscitate people who show up in emergency rooms in cardiac arrest from blood loss.  

Cooling and reviving people from long periods of stopped blood circulation (“suspended animation”) is not new in medicine.  Some surgical patients are intentionally placed in circulatory arrest for periods as long as one hour at temperatures as cold as +18 degC for certain surgeries in a procedure called Deep Hypothermic Circulatory Arrest (DHCA).

The coldest body temperature ever used in medicine dates back to 1955 when Suad Niazi at the University of Minnesota cooled a woman to only +9 degC in cadiac arrest for 45 minutes in an attempt to treat her cancer.  She successfully recovered (but was not cured of cancer).  Niazi even did it without cardiopulmonary bypass or blood substitutes.

In the early days of DHCA, surgeons such as Christian Baarnard also used temperatures as low as +10 degC.  The claim that accidental hypothermia victim Anna Bagenholm set a low temperature survival record by recovering from a temperature of +14 degC is inaccurate, although perhaps perpetuated because her case was so dramatic and uncontrolled compared to planned medical procedures.  At the time of writing, the lowest body temperature survived by a human in the medical literature appears to be Niazi’s 1955 cancer patient at +9 degC.

If the EPR human clinical trials are as successful as preclinical work suggests they could be, it’s possible that patients might be revived after longer periods of stopped blood circulation than previously demonstrated, perhaps as long as two hours.”

For more information on Alcor’s pioneering low temperature blood substitution experiments, follow this link:

Additional reading on the sloppy use of the phrase “suspended animation” here: