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It's a Cool Idea: Save Lives by Injecting Ice

CHICAGO -- Ken Kasza chuckles right along with wisecrackers who keep comparing his potentially breakthrough medical work to a Slurpee.

There is a fundamental difference. Cherry, grape and cola-flavored slush promotes brain freeze. Kasza's protective hypothermia may save lives.

"Some people make it sound like you could go to the 7-Eleven and buy it," said Kasza, a senior engineer at Argonne National Laboratory near Lemont. "But there is a subtle difference, and that makes all the difference."

The ice slurry system Kasza and a team from Argonne and the University of Chicago are developing can inject an ice and saline slush directly to organs, cooling those organs. Reducing an organ's temperature lowers its demand for oxygen and reduces the speed with which it deteriorates during trauma. That buys critical, even life-saving, time for surgeons working on patients in emergencies.

Kasza's team has figured out how to shrink ice and smooth its jagged edges, allowing it to flow almost as easily as water through a minuscule catheter.

Experiments on a 110-pound swine in 2000 showed that the slurry dropped the temperature of the animal's heart and brain more than 20 times faster than conventional, external cooling methods. More recently, the team successfully cooled a swine's kidney and is now working on the spine, Kasza said.

Humans may not be far behind. Clinical trials to cool human kidneys may begin in a year.

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