An artist in Beijing just sold jars of fresh air for $845, residents in Zhengzhou lined up to breathe mountain air from bags and the Eiffel Tower has been shrouded in smog lately. With air pollution getting worse everywhere, we may have to resort to injecting ourselves with oxygen particles.
Injectable oxygen has actually been in development for a while now. Cardiologist John Kheir, a Boston Children’s Hospital staff physician and pediatrics instructor at Harvard Medical School, is leading the charge. He and his colleagues are developing ways to administer oxygen intravenously through gas-filled microparticles. Hat tip Inhabitat.
Kheir first set out to develop the microparticles after a young patient of his died from a rare complication of pneumonia. It took years but his team successfully created an injectable foam suspension containing pure oxygen gas microparticles encapsulated by a layer of lipids. When mixed with human blood, the small particles revived oxygen-starved human blood in seconds (abstract).
The injection was first tested on rabbits whose breathing tubes were blocked for 15 minutes, mimicking what had happened to Kheir’s young patient. Animals treated with what Kheir called “today’s standard of care” stopped breathing and those that survived had severe organ injuries. All the rabbits treated with the injection, except one, survived without a single breath and none had organ injuries.
More recently the team has been trying to optimize the injection’s shelf life and performance (abstract). Once it’s available, injectable oxygen could save patients with abnormally low levels of oxygen in their blood or those who need extra oxygen delivered to organs at risk for failure — without requiring surgery.
Given the news, it’s also easy to imagine injectable oxygen becoming commonplace where air quality is bad. A report released this year concluded that air pollution killed 7 million people worldwide in 2012. Perhaps such high stakes are making work on an injection feel more pressing than ever.
Photo Credit: Ntr23, Flickr Creative Commons