You May Soon Breathe Underwater By Just Injecting Oxygen Into Your Bloodstream

    August 24, 2012
    Zach Walton
    Comments are off for this post.

Do you ever actually pay attention to your own breathing? Do you realize how important it is to your continued survival? The oxygenation of blood is what keeps you alive every day. Without oxygen or breathing for that matter, your cells and brain begin to die. Thanks to a revolutionary scientific breakthrough, that may no longer be the case.

Researchers at the Boston Children’s Hospital have designed an oxygen microparticle that can be injected directly into the bloodstream. From there, it oxygenates the blood without the need for breathing. Obviously, the breakthrough has immense importance in the medical field.

The creator of the microparticle, Dr. John Kheir, had to watch a young girl die as her brain was damaged beyond repair due to lack of oxygen. He started the research in hopes of finding a way to keep the blood oxygenated during situations in which the lungs might not be working. The injection can keep oxygen levels at normal for about 20 minutes. That’s enough time to save thousands of lives.

Of course, there are other awesome applications beyond saving lives. The new microparticle will enable people to breathe underwater. They wouldn’t literally be breathing underwater, but it would allow people to hold their breath for 20 minutes at a time. It doesn’t even have to apply to being underwater. Any scenario that requires a person to hold their breath would be instantly relieved with an injection of oxygen.

In all honesty, this is probably the biggest advancement in medical technology in years. As it improves, doctors may even be able to get rid of expensive respirators altogether. Saving lives will be much easier when you can just inject the oxygen.

[h/t: TechWench]
  • http://google fredrick king

    That will be a wonderful

  • MedStudent

    Sorry, but not true. The reason you cannot hold your breath for any long period of time is not due to low levels of oxygen, but the build up of Carbon Dioxide. This triggers your brain to breath, not the lack of oxygen.

  • 9th Grade Biology Student

    MedStudent is correct. You don’t even have to be a MedStudent to know that.

    • JLEW

      MedStudent missed the point of this breakthrough entirely. You just have to not be a contrarian a-hole to know that.

  • jaik

    I’d think researchers and actual doctors would know more about this than a med student and a 9th grade biology student. They aren’t injecting air. They are injecting oxygen. Your body doesn’t turn oxygen into co2, it just removes both from air and discards co2 as a waste product. If you inject only oxygen, there will be no co2 to remove. Learn to science.

  • Alan

    Jaik, that’s pitiful. Before you go around telling others they can’t properly do science, you *might* want to make sure you know what you’re talking about first.
    The body just doesn’t work the way you claim – it most certainly DOES transform oxygen into carbon dioxide as it burns sugars for fuel. Why do you think people have to eat?

    The CO2 buildup just might be a non-issue. The patient may be getting 14 kinds of signals to take a breath, but if the trachea is blocked due to swelling or trauma, breathing won’t happen. The purpose of this invention is to keep the O2 levels in the blood high enough that brain death doesn’t occur due to asphyxiation. The experience won’t be pleasant, but you’ll live.

    You can’t “chain” doses of this stuff together and remain underwater indefinitely either. It only buys time – it doesn’t serve as a boilerplate drop-in fix for blocked airways or drowning. Eventually the CO2 levels would build to the point that nothing short of gas exchange with the environment could save you.

    • JLEW

      It’s easier to get CO2 out of the bloodstream than it is to get O2 in, at least until this medical breakthrough.

      This won’t just buy a little bit of time, but could buy a LOT of time.

  • JLEW

    You would think that a med student would understand that CO2 buildup takes a lot longer to kill somebody than lack of O2, and that with an additional 20 minutes of time a lot of lives could be saved during surgeries where the patient’s lungs are not working.

  • Non-Science Major

    For underwater “breathing” wouldn’t you just have to breathe out to dispel the CO2, or would that not work because of the direct injection. I mean, wouldn’t the lungs still build up the excess CO2, like they always do?

  • ChemistryGradStudent

    Non-Science Major: Good question, I was wondering that myself. My guess is that CO2 would begin to build up in the lungs until it reached a certain partial pressure, but it would be hard to expel after a while because the diaphragm would already be relaxed. It’s easier to exchange CO2 when you take in a fresh breath of air (primarily nitrogen and oxygen).

  • J Gibson

    Carbon dioxide buildup would lead to acidosis and carbon dioxide narcosis and an intense drive to inhale and exhale. This could never lead to 20 minutes under water without breathing. A little more time to save a life, yes. But never aquaman. Sorry. You would inhale water,wash out surfactant and drown 20 minutes later than usual.

    • csrichardson

      Well, since you would be injecting oxygen only, I don’t see how you would get co2 buildup. Strictly speaking, you could simply breathe out fully, inject, go for about 20 minutes, start breathing again.

      • J Gibson

        Did you people not even take 7th grade Life Science? Carbon dioxide is a result of metabolism and must be removed by ventilation.You don’t breathe it in,usually. You breathe it out.Even if you got juiced with this Oxygen supplying stuff and wore a dive helmet to keep water out of your lungs, you would still pass out and seize just before the last third of your twenty minutes without a carbon dioxide absorbant(soda lime) in the helmet system.

        • braden

          it seems to me that as micro particles containing oxygen break down (from a solid to a gas) in your blood stream they release oxygen, your cells convert the oxygen to C02 through metabolic process, the co2 is moved to your lungs, and when it builds up enough you exhale. If you were under water, you would simply continue to regularly exhale. No risk of anything building up.

          • mcotrone87@gmail.com

            Ah man. Good point…. That would allow you to exhale to equalize…

  • Kurt

    This article is full of wishful thinking when applying this so called breakthrough to diving underwater. There are a ton of variables not mentioned, such as depth and the resulting increase in pressure, this increase in pressure’s increase in the partial pressures of the gases in the lungs and body, as well as the build up of gases in the tissues. I am a veteran Navy diver with over 40,000 logged dives, I also invented a continuous blend surface supplied Oxygen enriched air system that is being used by more than 50 commercial dive operations. So I know what I am talking about. One of the items this article misses is Oxygen toxicity, a real concern with higher partial pressures and depth. We also have to account for oxygen build up in the body, though this is still unproven all nitrox capable dive computers account for it just in case. Removing too much nitrogen also causes you to get cold as nitrogen helps the body to transport heat. As stated by others metabolism creates carbonate in the blood stream that becomes CO2 as it enters the lungs the build up of CO2 causes the diaphragm to expand the chest cavity lowering the pressure in the lungs allowing air to flow in then contraction expels the CO2 and unused air in the lungs, if you do not breath CO2 builds up, this is not a good thing.

    Anyways not trying to write a whole text book on this but its not really all that new, the Alligator has special hemoglobin in its blood that retains oxygen so that the Alligator may stay down much longer. Its just us humans don’t work the same way as an Alligator.

    • Brandon

      Seriously dude? 40,000 logged dives? That’s (off the top of my head) like 3 dives every single day for 40 years with no days off. So either they were extremely shallow and short lived dives where you didn’t need to worry about getting narced or toxing out in any shape form or fashion, or you’re full of crap. CO2 triggers our breathing reflex, you are correct. However, that can be changed with exposure. Ever noticed that someone who is a chain smoker won’t receive oxygen in any large doses when they go to the hospital? Their body is so used to it that it’s reflex to breathe has been switched to oxygen. Will this be a cure all for divers? Absolutely not. Will this give a diver a fighting chance if he’s knocked out and you still have to deco or just don’t want to bolt for the surface from a deep recreational dive? Sure as hell would. Oxygen toxicity isn’t dangerous, drowning is. So if you can close off his airway (or even if you cant) and give him this shot, you can still get some deco or a controlled ascent in before you surface potentially saving his life. I say this is awesome technology! I’m behind these guys 100%! Why do you have to be such a negative nancy?!

    • Mike

      Emphazema patients could lead normal lives with a direct O2 feed into their blood.

      People that have drowned, could be revived with a shot.

      Firemen and others that use SCBA woudl benefit.

      So many uses… please put it in a laocal drugstore soon!

    • mcotrone87@gmail.com

      But keep in mind. The air you are supplying from the surface to a deep diver is gaining parts per pressue because air molecules will become dense as you descend and you will also need to equalize your dead air spaces. Now, the rest of your body, 80% water and the liquid in your body handles depth withouy any problem. So, when decending, your chambers saturate with N and become super saturated in deco. But! This shot has no nitrogen and is liquid. So in theory. It should not increase density the same way air does from a tank or on descent down through a commercial breathing supply. However, you will still need to equalize your air spaces. So, at best we would need a small enough tank to allow you to breat in and excel to equalize your ears and mask. Thats when you need to worry the most with oxygen toxicity at greater depths. I do not think, if you are trained to not take a breath in unless you are using it to equalize which which should only be on descent every meter you go, that nitrogen build up will be such a big factor. A factor yes, but not by rdp standards.
      So, still needs some fine tuning, but at the least, we should be able to carry smaller tanks or reduce our no stop deco time. In a crazy world. One could prob get trained to hold his or her breath the whole dive and use that air to equalize while having a system to push the oxygen into the body via an iv system.

  • GaryMc

    This will inevitably be abused by sports’ cheats!!!

  • Mike

    I am a major athelete and not a scientist but I do have a feeling that if this were to be made publicly available, runners and other athletes might abuse this technology during competitions. I’m not sure how easy it is to trace but it would be good for someone working out and just excerise for their own health benefits. But might get atheletes in trouble. Kind of how runners will take out their blood a week or so before a race and inject it back in themselve just before the race so the oxygen can be carried from their lungs easier.

    Again I am not a scientist. I am just an avid runner.

  • nythawk

    It seems like every year we see more and more of Star Trek technology coming true. Doctor McCoy used something called TriOx and injected crew members with it when they needed oxygen. I think it was even mentioned in Star Trek Deep Space Nine series in the late 90’s. Did the writers of these series know something we didn’t. One possible application of this may be to give miners and submariners a little more time to be rescued. They probably are already working on a way to remove excess CO2 from a persons body using this.

  • Miguel Tavares

    Hi there! I’m not an english speaker so, sorry for my mistakes.
    After reading some comments, I find myself wondering some things. As it’s been said, CO2 is a waste product of methabolism (a reaction between chugars and oxygen)and it needs to be expelled (exhaled). This process occurs in the lungs by osmosis, wich means: there has to be a lower concentration of one gas on one side then on another side, for the higher concentration level to drop.
    That said, I think this discovery will be interesting for medical uses BUT NOT for diving because for the CO2 concentration in the lungs to drop one needs not only to exhale it but also to inhale some other gas mixture with a lower CO2 concentration (fresh air preferentially).

  • http://www.viewcrafters.com Mark Ziegler

    Walking along a busy street one inhales co2 and other gaseous toxins into the lungs and directly to the bloodstream.
    One way to remove these toxins is with a decompression chamber or incubation chamber like a scuba diver might use to get nitrogen bubbles out of the blood.
    Another way to clear the blood is to live in the mountains at around 5000 ft. above sea level. First there is less toxins at that height due to gravity and there is still a good level of oxygen to breath. The lower barometric presser would facilitate the boiling off of toxins during respiration. Ever notice the oldest people live in the mountains?

  • mcotrone87@gmail.com

    For diving. It would at the very least be an alternative to nitrox. Take a shot, go down, less breathing needed for part of the dive which means less nitrogen absorbed meaning longer dive time and or shorter surface intervals.
    Can also make a system to IV this stuff into your blood stream, requiring you to breath less, but YES TO BREATH, and absorb less nitrogen. Or even take oxygen out of your tank making it 10% to allow for more depth without oxygen toxicity. But seriously shallow nitrogen narcosis… High haha. Or could trimix for even shallow depths, that way narcosis is eluded easier. But its not that bad and may not even happen if you are only breathing in for “comfort” or to get rid of whatever co2 may build up in your lungs or HELL just for a safety measure for students or emergency situations if your IV supply malfunctions or your buddies. Can atleast make it to the surface on your tank or pony tank.
    Seriously. This isnt that hard of a system to make. Just the iv supply would change the rdp table for no stop recreational diving.
    Some people pay $10k for ccrs for god sake.
    Also, this would be incredible for discovering new dive sites. Say you travel to some remote place in Indonesia (where I am) and there is no shop to get tanks or air.
    Have some of these shots, and a couple portable pony tanks with a regulator and go down for 30 mins and see the site! No gear needed. Not even a bcd if you are properly weighted (no need to waste air filling a bladder, I can dive to 30bar, and do a safety stop with 0 weights and I am 5 foot 9 and not thin, about 175 lbs). I would love this type of system. Portable and easy. Cousteau all over again for what we could find

  • ER med student

    Unfortunately this article gives you little information about the actual process and the true science behind it. This process was not intended for recreational use. If you read the medical journals then you would see that this is intended for emergent care in order to keep brain and heart cells from dying in case of an airway obstruction that cannot be corrected quickly. This process is only meant to buy 15 to 30 minutes worth of time in a healthcare environment. As it stands right now, yes, the patient/person would run the risk of acidosis without a mechanism to remove the build up of CO2 from the blood plus the fluid that contains the oxygen pockets will eventually cause imbalances in the blood so this is not for long term use. It’s meant to hopefully save a persons life when there is total respiratory failure. Maybe there will some day be a way of applying this to diving but that will not be anytime soon.