Injectable Air?

Scientists develop microparticles that can allow long periods without breathing

| posted on June 16, 2013

Could injectable oxygen make hold-unders nothing to worry about? Photo: Glaser

The next stage in big-wave surfing’s evolution may come from an unlikely source. Researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital announced last year that they’ve successfully completed tests of an injectable form of oxygen that they hope will be able to keep a human being alive for up to 30 minutes without breathing.

Led by Dr. John Kheir of Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, the team of scientists were able to pack oxygen into microparticles that are suspended in a kind of injectable foam; the microparticles are small enough to mix harmlessly with human blood, thereby allowing them to deliver oxygen to the bloodstream without fear of embolism.

When tested on rabbits with blocked windpipes, the injectable oxygen kept the little guys alive for over 15 minutes.

The oxygenated foam could be used in patients whose lungs have filled with blood or other fluids—including seawater—keeping those patients from lapsing into cardiac arrest, or suffering brain damage, while the cause of lung obstruction is dealt with by medical personnel.

“Eventually, this [injectable oxygen] could be stored in syringes on every code cart in a hospital, ambulance or transport helicopter to help stabilize patients who are having difficulty breathing,” Dr. Kheir explained.

But it’s got to be brutally uncomfortable while the rest of your body tries to convince your lungs that they’re not needed at the moment.

It’s unclear from the initial announcements that came out Boston Children’s Hospital whether or not the injectable oxygen could be used prior to knowingly depriving a person of oxygen, as would be the case if a big-wave surfer dosed himself with a bit of intravenous security before paddling out into a hairball situation at Cortes Bank, for instance.

But it’s worth noting that the research team was at least partially funded by a grant from the Defense Department. It’s easy to imagine the military coming up with all sorts of ways to make use of soldiers who can go without breathing.

It’s just as easy to imagine big-wave surfers equipped with bandoliers of life-preserving oxygenated foam vials to ward off the dangers of two-wave hold downs. Inflatable air vests are widely used by heavywater chargers; portable oxygen canisters are also available. Will track marks from injectable oxygen syringes be a badge of honor? A sign of weakness?

We’re years away from knowing. Tests on human subjects have yet to be reported. And there’s no way that—even if approved—intravenous oxygen would be affordable anytime soon.

But it’s something to think about. Short of perfecting artificial gills (yes, scientists are working on it) or the breathable liquids that only work on rats (perflourocarbons, yep, real, but just for small mammals, not you), injectable oxygen may be the next best thing to keeping surfers from drowning. Besides, you know, holding your breath.

  • Surfer Dad

    If you have to inject something to get the job done – you’re in the wrong job.

  • ferrismoses

    I can already see where people want to take this…I agree Surfer Dad.

  • matt

    what happened to the rabbits AFTER the 15 minutes???

  • Cesar

    “kept the little guys alive for over 15 minutes”, obviously they died after those minutes, they are experimenting something new.
    Still holding your breath for 30 minutes is not gonna save you from the reef.

  • Mike Brown

    The Avalung is a breathing device to displace bad air when buried in an avalanche. Also, there are many “air bag” devices that you deploy prior to being buried in hopes of it keeping you up top.
    Why hasn’t surfing developed air vests, and/or 5 minute breathing units like in James Bond? Nothing is 100% but limiting risks isn’t such a bad thing.

  • Ryan

    Injecting oxygen into your circulation isn’t going to prevent CO2 from accumulating and throwing your blood’s pH off.. Lowering your bodies pH is dangerous e.g. It changes how much blood your brain decides it needs. Under the right circumstances, the benefits outweighs the risks.. Like when a patient’s lungs are filled up with water.. Prophylactic use to surf bigger waves? Performance enhancing drug abuse like blood doping.. Surfer dad has it right

  • Myself

    Clogging rabbits throats to test the foamy O2 and making rats breath pleurofluids sound very ALOHA.

  • jiblet65

    Mike, wake up buddy. Alec Cooke was using portable air supplies way back in the day and Shane Dorian just came up with an air bladder that can be activated by a pull cord when needed. Not so sure about this oxygen thing in the article though.

  • http://N/A Rich

    I have been waiting for this! Well, not IVO2 exactly: a way to overcome two/three, the unthinkable 4+ wave hold down. I hope this product will spawn a new way for folks to utilize our brains’ extraordinary power to think out a problem. I don’t know exactly how Mr. Foo got held down so long, but I reckon, if He’d of had one more “good” breath he would have thought his way out of the problem. O2 Deprivation is deadly, this could get it gone. I’d say rig it to a sharp needle close to a vein, make it like an air bag. I would test fly it anyday. I prefer my Heros alive.

  • wardo

    getting rag dolled and trying to jam a needle into your vein sound like incompatible activities.