60-Second Science

IV Oxygen Foam Could Buy Breathing Time

Animals with blocked windpipes maintained stable blood oxygen levels and heart rates after receiving injections of oxygen-filled microparticles. Sophie Bushwick reports

Every time you inhale, oxygen passes from your windpipe to your lungs and on into your bloodstream. But what if your windpipe was blocked? Getting the gas straight to your blood could save your life. Wait, put down that syringe—a large air bubble in a blood vessel can kill you. But what if the bubbles were only a few millionths of a meter in diameter?

Researchers coated tiny amounts of oxygen gas with fatty molecules to create microparticles. Suspended in solution, the microparticles formed a foam containing 50 to 90 percent oxygen. In a beaker of blood, the foam was able to quickly transfer its oxygen to the cells.

Then the researchers tested it in animals. Normally, a blocked windpipe cuts off the blood’s supply of oxygen, leading to brain damage and death. But when rabbits with blocked windpipes received injections of the microparticles, their blood oxygen levels and heart rates remained stable. The work is in the journal Science Translational Medicine. [John N. Kheir et al., "Oxygen Gas–Filled Microparticles Provide Intravenous Oxygen Delivery"]

The foam may someday buy time for human patients. So that even someone with a closed airway can breathe easy.

—Sophie Bushwick

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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