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Suspending life to save it

Medical breakthrough offers hope for treating deadly injuries

Samuel Tisherman YouTube/University of Maryland School of Medicine

Suspending life to save it

Doctors in the United States have, for the first time, placed a human in suspended animation, New Scientist reported.

Researchers at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore are experimenting with emergency preservation and resuscitation (EPR) on patients whose hearts have stopped beating and who have lost at least half of their blood after suffering an injury such as a gunshot or stab wound. Under normal circumstances, such patients have less than a 5 percent chance of survival, but EPR may improve those odds.

To achieve emergency preservation, physicians replace all of a patient’s blood with ice-cold saline and cool the body to between 50 and 59 degrees Fahrenheit. At that temperature, the patient’s brain activity nearly stops. Doctors then disconnect the patient from the cooling system, giving them two hours to repair the injury before they must warm the patient and restart the heart.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the procedure and waived the requirement for patient consent because such patients would likely die without the treatment, and no alternative intervention exists.

Samuel Tisherman at the University of Maryland School of Medicine told New Scientist he and his team have used the procedure on at least one patient and plan to try it with 10. He declined to say if the patient survived or if any others have undergone the procedure, but he hopes to announce the full results of the trial by the end of 2020.

“I want to make clear that we’re not trying to send people off to Saturn,” Tisherman said, referring to sci-fi scenarios in which astronauts enter suspended animation for long-term spaceflight. “We’re trying to buy ourselves more time to save lives.”

An image displayed by a new 3D virtual reality device

An image displayed by a new 3D virtual reality device YouTube/Guardian News

Paging Capt. Kirk

What Star Trek fans haven’t longed for a chance to play on the Holodeck, the show’s fictional device that allowed users to experience life-like virtual reality in 3D. Such sophisticated technology does not yet exist, but researchers in England have designed a device that produces 3D animated objects that can talk and interact with participants, The Guardian reported.

The device uses a field of ultrasound waves that levitate a 2-millimeter-wide plastic bead. The bead traces shapes in the air as it zooms around the field at speeds of 20 mph. At such high speeds, the brain cannot comprehend the moving bead but instead sees the shape it creates.

In the study, published in Nature on Nov. 13, the scientists added color to the objects by shining LED lights on the bead as it whizzed around the field. They also added clear speech and music by vibrating the bead as it zoomed about. By manipulating very precise patterns of ultrasound waves on users’ hands, the researchers produced sensations that felt identical to touching the object.

Sriram Subramanian, one of the researchers, told The Guardian the device could lead to new forms of visual entertainment. “Let’s say you want to create a Harry Potter experience. You could put your hand out to cast a spell, and as you move your hand you could see and feel a glowing ball growing in your palm, and we could have sound coming from it too,” he said.

Ryuji Hirayama, who helped build the device, said the technology could also enable users to reach out and touch someone: “I believe that in the future, such displays will allow us to interact with our family and friends as if they are close by so you can see, touch and hear them,” he said. —J.B.

An image displayed by a new 3D virtual reality device

An image displayed by a new 3D virtual reality device YouTube/Guardian News

Surf’s up, honeybee

When summer temperatures rise, worker bees switch from gathering pollen to collecting water needed to cool the hive. To obtain that water, a bee hovers above a water source, sucks the liquid into a special storage chamber in its body, and then transports its cargo back to the hive.

In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Nov. 18, researchers at the California Institute of Technology discovered that honeybees protect themselves from drowning by surfing on waves they make themselves. Researchers hope to use their new discovery to design robots that can both fly and swim.

Sometimes, water-collecting bees fall into the water and get trapped. Their special wing design enables them to produce a wave they can ride to the water’s edge, where they can pull themselves out.

“It hydrofoils, or surfs, toward safety,” said Mory Gharib, one of the researchers.

The bee’s wings perform much differently in water than they do in air. In water, the wings curve downward when pushing down and upward when pulling up. The motion keeps the top of the wing dry, while the moisture that clings to the underside gives the insect the extra force required to propel itself forward. The bee’s wingbeats slow to about 10 degrees of motion per flap in water compared to 90 to 120 degrees of motion per flap when it flies.

Scientists have not documented any similar ability in other insects. —J.B.

An out-of-this-world mystery

For the first time, scientists have measured the seasonal changes of gases in the air on Mars. They can offer no explanation for the huge, random fluctuations of oxygen which defy all known chemical processes.

These mysterious atmospheric changes suggest that something unknown is putting oxygen into the air and taking it back out again. “The first time we saw that, it was just mind-boggling,” said Sushil Atreya, co-author of the study published on Nov. 12 in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets.

Although scientists considered several possible explanations, none adequately solve the mystery. “We’re struggling to explain this,” said Melissa Trainer, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. —J.B.

Julie Borg

Julie is a WORLD contributor who covers science and intelligent design. A clinical psychologist and a World Journalism Institute graduate, Julie resides in Dayton, Ohio.

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