Injectable Air?

Scientists develop microparticles that can allow long periods without breathing

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.