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How dolphins inspired a potentially life-saving method for treating trauma victims

University at Buffalo researchers found that placing a plastic baggy filled with an ice water slurry over a person’s forehead, eyes and cheeks for 15 minutes prevents a drop in blood pressure during a simulation of blood loss. Credit: Douglas Levere, University at Buffalo

A physiological process used commonly by mammals like seals and dolphins inspired the potentially life-saving method University at Buffalo researchers successfully tested to raise blood pressure in a simulation of trauma victims experiencing blood loss.

The pre-hospital intervention is simple—place a bag of ice on the victim’s forehead, eyes and cheeks. In a small study, this method was shown to increase and maintain a person’s pressure during simulated blood loss. The researchers have presented these findings at several recent conferences, and their paper will be published in a peer-reviewed journal later this year.

“There is a slight reduction in blood pressure during the simulation and we wanted to see if face cooling would reverse that. It turns out, it does. It raises blood pressure during a simulated hemorrhage situation,” said Zachary Schlader, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor of exercise and nutrition sciences in UB’s School of Public Health and Health Professions.

Mammals like seals and dolphins—and, to a much lesser extent, humans—have what’s called the “mammalian diving reflex.” It’s a physiological function that the animals employ for submersion in water.

During the reflex, which is partially activated when the face is immersed in cold water, certain bodily functions temporarily change to conserve oxygen, allowing the animals to remain underwater for long periods of time.

“The idea is, can we utilize a physiological phenomenon to…

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