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

July 17, 2017 by David J. Hill, University at Buffalo
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 have practical benefit? We're talking about pre-hospital interventions, so it has to be quick and easy for EMTs, military medics and other first responders," Schlader, PhD, said.

"We're not changing paradigms. But the biggest thing is, no one's ever put two and two together. No one's said I wonder if this could be used as a tool in clinical practice as opposed to simply a tool to probe physiology," he added.

Face cooling works because it constricts the blood vessels, which sends blood back to the heart, increasing blood output from the heart. The result is increased blood pressure.

University at Buffalo researchers prepare a subject for a lower body negative pressure procedure that simulates blood loss. Credit: Douglas Levere

Researchers tested their theory in UB's Center for Research and Education in Special Environments (CRESE) using 10 healthy participants. The team simulated blood loss in the study participants through a non-invasive process called "lower body negative pressure" (LBNP).

Participants were placed in a tube-shaped LBNP device resembling a CAT scan machine. A pump sucks air from the device to create negative pressure inside. As a result, blood is pulled to the person's legs from the upper body, simulating a hemorrhage event akin to tourniquet-controlled blood loss.

After six minutes of this, researchers placed a plastic baggy filled with ice water on the participant's forehead, eyes and cheeks for 15 minutes and then monitored whether blood pressure was elevated and maintained. The temperature of the ice water slurry was about freezing. "Think of it as brain freeze times 10," Schlader says. "It's not very comfortable, but it could buy you another 15 minutes."

The current study builds off previous research conducted by paper co-author Blair Johnson, an assistant professor of exercise and at UB, who, like Schlader, is also a CRESE investigator.

"We were discussing that if you cool the forehead and the eyes, you evoke the mammalian diving reflex. And we thought, what if we can use that reflex to help bump up blood pressure during a hemorrhagic injury?" Johnson, PhD, said.

Schlader and his team plan to continue pursuing funding for future studies, one of which would examine whether chemical ice packs have the same effect on blood pressure as the ice water slurry.

What is clear is the need for this type of research. Trauma is the No. 1 cause of death in people under 40, Schlader says. In addition, hemorrhage is the leading cause of trauma deaths in the general population and the leading cause of preventable deaths on the battlefield.

"There's a need to figure out how to prolong survival in instances of severe . What it comes down to is maintaining blood . As you lose more blood, you compromise your ability to maintain ," Schlader said.

Several interventions have been proposed previously, but these have proven to be less effective and not as practical for civilian and military applications as the face cooling method, Schlader said.

Explore further: Possible new tool for first responders: An ice bag to the face

Related Stories

Possible new tool for first responders: An ice bag to the face

April 26, 2017
A new study suggests a simple bag of ice water applied to the face could help maintain adequate blood pressure in people who have suffered significant blood loss. Blair Johnson, PhD, assistant professor at the University ...

Why do we develop high blood pressure?

March 9, 2017
Abnormally high blood pressure, or hypertension, may be related to changes in brain activity and blood flow early in life. That's according to a study conducted on a rat model of high blood pressure, published in Experimental ...

Intensive blood pressure lowering benefits patients with chronic kidney disease

June 23, 2017
Results from a recent clinical trial indicate that intensive blood pressure lowering reduces chronic kidney disease (CKD) patients' risks of dying prematurely or developing cardiovascular disease. The findings appear in an ...

Blood pressure: know your numbers

April 18, 2017
(HealthDay)—Having high blood pressure makes you more likely to have heart disease or a stroke. But because high blood pressure doesn't usually cause warning symptoms, you could be at risk without even knowing it.

Take a free test that could possibly save your life

April 14, 2017
As part of #CheckIt, the American Heart Association (AHA) ) – the world's leading voluntary health organization devoted to fighting cardiovascular disease – wants people to check their own blood pressure by May 17, World ...

Even easy exercise may lower blood pressure in those with diabetes

November 9, 2015
(HealthDay)—Just a few minutes of easy exercise daily can help lower blood pressure in overweight and obese people with type 2 diabetes, researchers report.

Recommended for you

Researchers illustrate how muscle growth inhibitor is activated, could aid in treating ALS

January 19, 2018
Researchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine are part of an international team that has identified how the inactive or latent form of GDF8, a signaling protein also known as myostatin responsible for ...

Bioengineered soft microfibers improve T-cell production

January 18, 2018
T cells play a key role in the body's immune response against pathogens. As a new class of therapeutic approaches, T cells are being harnessed to fight cancer, promising more precise, longer-lasting mitigation than traditional, ...

Weight flux alters molecular profile, study finds

January 17, 2018
The human body undergoes dramatic changes during even short periods of weight gain and loss, according to a study led by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Secrets of longevity protein revealed in new study

January 17, 2018
Named after the Greek goddess who spun the thread of life, Klotho proteins play an important role in the regulation of longevity and metabolism. In a recent Yale-led study, researchers revealed the three-dimensional structure ...

The HLF gene protects blood stem cells by maintaining them in a resting state

January 17, 2018
The HLF gene is necessary for maintaining blood stem cells in a resting state, which is crucial for ensuring normal blood production. This has been shown by a new research study from Lund University in Sweden published in ...

Magnetically applied MicroRNAs could one day help relieve constipation

January 17, 2018
Constipation is an underestimated and debilitating medical issue related to the opioid epidemic. As a growing concern, researchers look to new tools to help patients with this side effect of opioid use and aging.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.