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

July 17, 2017 by David J. Hill
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

Molecular hitchhiker on human protein signals tumors to self-destruct

July 24, 2017
Powerful molecules can hitch rides on a plentiful human protein and signal tumors to self-destruct, a team of Vanderbilt University engineers found.

Researchers develop new method to generate human antibodies

July 24, 2017
An international team of scientists has developed a method to rapidly produce specific human antibodies in the laboratory. The technique, which will be described in a paper to be published July 24 in The Journal of Experimental ...

New vaccine production could improve flu shot accuracy

July 24, 2017
A new way of producing the seasonal flu vaccine could speed up the process and provide better protection against infection.

A sodium surprise: Engineers find unexpected result during cardiac research

July 20, 2017
Irregular heartbeat—or arrhythmia—can have sudden and often fatal consequences. A biomedical engineering team at Washington University in St. Louis examining molecular behavior in cardiac tissue recently made a surprising ...

Want to win at sports? Take a cue from these mighty mice

July 20, 2017
As student athletes hit training fields this summer to gain the competitive edge, a new study shows how the experiences of a tiny mouse can put them on the path to winning.

'Smart' robot technology could give stroke rehab a boost

July 19, 2017
Scientists say they have developed a "smart" robotic harness that might make it easier for people to learn to walk again after a stroke or spinal cord injury.

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.