John Kheir knows what it's like to lose a race against time with oxygen. In October 2006, the pediatric critical care doctor was treating a 9-month-old girl admitted to Boston Children's Hospital with viral pneumonia. As her disease worsened, her lungs hemorrhaged, filling with blood and blocking her breathing. Kheir jumped into action, shoving a breathing tube down her windpipe to help get air to her lungs, performing CPR, and eventually putting the baby on a machine that took over for her heart and lungs. But in the minutes it took to restore the flow of air into the young girl's body, her brain had already suffered permanent damage because of the lack of oxygen. She died a few days later.
Devastated, Kheir began looking for better ways to get oxygen into the body. Now, he's found one. In a new study, published online today inScience Translational Medicine, he and colleagues report the development of microparticles filled with oxygen gas that can be injected directly into the bloodstream. The particles quickly dissolve, releasing the gas and keeping organs, such as the brain, from suffocating.
"This is a potential breakthrough," says cardiac intensive care doctor Peter Laussen of Boston Children's Hospital, who was not involved in the work. "You can apply this across healthcare, from the battlefield to the emergency room, intensive care unit, or operating room."