Jul 20 2012 2:00pm

Weekend News Update: You Don’t Need to Breathe

An injected oxygen microparticle encounters a red blood cell deprived of this vital gas. I am fascinated by all things medical, and not just because I seem to have been a medical oddity myself since the age of four. The things the human body can survive never cease to amaze me. If a writer put a character in a book through what some real people survive, his book would end up in the humor section, not the thriller section.

But even in extreme circumstances, we’ve always taken for granted that the one thing people need in order to survive was breathable air. (Or, okay, two things: we thought they had to be able to inhale that air or have it forced into their lungs, as well.)

But Harvard biologists are challenging that assumption. They’ve created an oxygen-filled microparticle that can be injected into the bloodstream of patients whose bodies are starved for oxygen. It has been tested on rabbits, which survived for fifteen minutes without taking a breath.

Fifteen minutes isn’t long, but given how short the current time span is between oxygen-deprivation and serious brain damage or death, this is a major leap forward. (I’m still waiting for the breathable water from The Abyss, though . . . get on that, okay, Harvard?)

All right, thriller writers, start your engines: let’s see that one in your next book!

Image information, via The Atlantic: An injected oxygen microparticle encounters a red blood cell deprived of this vital gas. (D. Kunkel/Dennis Kunkel Microscopy, Inc.; D. Bell/Harvard University; J. Kheir/Children’s Hospital Boston; C. Porter/Chris Porter Illustration)

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