Imagine surgeons draining every drop of blood from a patient, pumping the body full of "antifreeze," then lowering the temperature until the heart stops - all to try to save a life.
Or having a frozen organ bank, where doctors could order from a huge supply of kidneys, livers and other spare body parts for transplants, thus eliminating the long - sometimes deadly - waiting period patients often endure today.It may sound like science fiction, but cryobiologists say these scenarios may someday become reality.
"We're not here because we're turned on by ice crystals," said Dr. Kelvin Brockbank of CryoLife Inc., which preserves heart valves by freezing them. "We're finding ways to get people fresh tissue and organs."
The science of freezing living tissue is popular in movies, like "Forever Young" with Mel Gibson, as a form of immortality - truly a fiction, cryobiologists say with a cringe.
But new medical uses of hypothermia are in sight thanks to the development of biological antifreezes, according to the 400 members of the International Society of Cryobiology, which met here last week.
Doctors already freeze heart valves and bone marrow - fairly simple organs - for later use and cool patients by 20 degrees to slow body functions during open-heart surgery.
But they can't freeze large organs without killing them. Even the fairly mild cold used during heart surgery thickens blood dangerously.
Using cold to produce a state of suspended animation in patients could give surgeons valuable time. Vital cells die after only an hour on a heart-lung machine, for example.
It also may allow blood - which often blocks the surgeon's view - to be drained from a patient during surgery.