Some June 2005 reports in the British media portrayed the situation as scientists creating scary zombie dogs, but the reality is actually a hopeful one, abetting life not death. Badly injured people and animals may soon be kept in lengthy and reliable suspended animation until they can be properly treated.
For this, scientists at the Safar Center for Resuscitation Research in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania have come up with an improved version of their technique in which animals' blood is drained out and then replaced with a cold salt solution. (This method was used in their experiments at least as early as 2002.) When the experimental animal is thus rendered clinically dead, operations can be performed, since the lowering of the body temperature with a cold flush solution to 7 degrees Centigrade allows time for quality surgery. Up to three hours later, the salt solution is removed and replaced with blood, and the animal is subjected to electric shock and 100% oxygen — which brings it back to life. Tests have shown that after an animal has returned to normal, its brain is undamaged. Pitt's Safar Center in Oakland announced in late June that three hours of suspended animation had been achieved, surpassing earlier results by an hour.
Because of the animal cruelty concerns of some, the Safar Center has stated that its tests on animals are done under strict oversight by the University of Pittsburgh's veterinary staff, and that anesthesia and pain medications are administered under rigorous standards.
Human experiments making use of the radical techniques are expected to begin in 2006.
The Safar Center (originally the International Resuscitation Research Center) was founded in 1979 by the late Peter Safar, pioneer of "mouth-to-mouth" resuscitation, CPR, and many ambulance practices. In the 1980s he began serious development of "big chill" suspended animation, so doctors will have a useful tool with which to save people under adverse conditions such as battlefields.
The use of cold to slow body processes has already been put into practice, at least to some extent. Mild cooling methods have been used at Vienna General Hospital and at hospitals in Melbourne, Australia for a few years, to no known macabre comment.
On June 22, 2005, an amusing juxtaposition took place in Pittsburgh. As trauma surgeons got together for the third annual Safar Symposium, horror fans — some in zombie costume — attended the city's premiere of the George Romero movie Land of the Dead.
Such a link with scariness is not new. Boris Karloff used a "big chill" technique in the science-fictional complications of his 1940 movie The Man With Nine Lives. This long pre-dated the British tabloid "horrors."
Such public conceptions are likely to die down, as it were, and the new techniques will become as popular as the earlier methods Safar helped develop. Of course, controversy was no stranger to Safar's work. One of his mottos was "when on thin ice, dance." Dr. Patrick Kochanek, the present Safar Center director, is carrying on a vital legacy.
— Douglas Chapman
PittsburghLive.com, http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/tribune-review/trib/regional/print_348517.html, 6/29/05
Safar News 2005, Safar Center for Resuscitation Research statement, http://www.safar.pitt.edu/content/news/2005/news/statement.htm, 6/30/05
Post-Gazette.com Lifestyle, http://www.post-gazette.com/lifestyle/20020331fnp2.asp, 3/31/02