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Medical care on ice

by Manya Gupta
Nov 10, 2009

Do you enjoy your favorite Slurpee at 7-Eleven? Well, it may now do more than tantalizing your taste buds- it may actually save your life.

Researchers at the Argonne National Laboratory in collaboration with the University of Chicago have developed a technology for the production and use of Slurpee-like ice slurries that would make therapeutic hypothermia a more efficient and faster treatment.

“If it takes five minutes with saline water, it takes two minutes with the slurry,” said  researcher Arieh L.Shalhav, chief of urology  at the University of Chicago.

Therapeutic hypothermia involves lowering the body temperature by six degrees to reduce injury risk to tissues following a period of insufficient blood flow. Shalhav said cooling the sensitive organs quickly enough to reduce the demand for blood is significant in protecting the sensitive organs like the brain, heart and the kidneys.

Currently surface cooling techniques such as circulating ice-cold water through ice blankets are used to induce hypothermia. This method, primarily used to induce whole body hypothermia for trauma and heart arrest victims mainly to protect their brain, is time-consuming, taking more than three hours to cool the body to the required temperature.

Dr. Michael R. Sayre, professor of emergency medicine at the Ohio State University, said about half of the cardiac arrest patients die because current cooling techniques do not seem to have much effect on them. “We need better ways to cool the brain,” he said.

One improvement over surface cooling technique is the internal cooling method, in which ice is injected into the body through natural orifices such as the mouth, rectum and the belly. This method, commonly used in inducing organ hypothermia, currently uses crushed ice on organs for which blood supply was interrupted.

However, Shalhav said the needle-like crystals of the crushed-ice get stuck in the corners of the tubes, clogging it and making the procedure dangerous for the patients. “The whole idea behind this genius invention is to make ice-crystals round, like tiny-balls so they look almost like blood cells and flow easily through the tubes.” he said.

Shalhav, who used the slurry to remove a tumor from the kidney of a pig, said his tests showed that ice slurries take 20 percent of the time that it takes to induce hypothermia with saline water. Moreover the kidney could be exposed to 90 minutes without oxygen.

Though the research team found no inflammation or scarring of the tissues, Shalhav said there are concerns of volume overload. “There is a limit to how much you want to inject,” he said. “But these are problems that we will deal with later when someone comes with a major trauma.”

Sayre however said it would be interesting to see a manufacturing process for the slurry that can be carried in an ambulance.

“The challenge is figuring out how to get the slurry delivered to the victim in his house less than 10 minutes after the call to 911,” he said.