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August 03, 2007

Sang-froid

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Writing for Newsweek, Jerry Adler describes a new practice of cooling patients so as to interrupt the complex process of dying from a heart attack.

Dr. Lance Becker, director of Penn's year-old Center for Resuscitation Science, frequently dreams about mitochondria: tubular structures within cells, encasing convoluted membranes where oxygen and glucose combine to produce the energy the body uses in moving everything from molecules across cell membranes to barbells. Recently mitochondria have been in the news because they have their own DNA, which is inherited exclusively down the female line of descent, making them a useful tool for geneticists and anthropologists.

But Becker is interested in mitochondria for another reason: he believes they are the key to his audacious goal of tripling the time during which a human being can go without a heartbeat and still be revived. That the five-minute rule is not absolute has been known for a long time, and the exceptions seem to involve low temperatures. Children who fall through ice may survive unexpectedly long immersions in cold water. On Napoleon's Russian campaign, his surgeon general noticed that wounded infantrymen, left on the snowy ground to recover, had better survival rates than officers who stayed warm near the campfire. Becker is hoping to harness this effect to save lives today.

So, God bless Dominique-Jean Larrey for that. It takes a rare mind to actually observe about the world, make reasoned inference from observation and act on it. He is long in the grave and still saving lives. More thoughts on the creation of the flying ambulance. Yet more on the man for French-speaking Flea-readers.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at August 3, 2007 08:27 AM