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Poisonous chemical turned lifesaver

Mark Roth, an affiliate biochemistry professor at University of Washington and lab director for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, has discovered a way to use a poisonous chemical, hydrogen sulfide, to induce a state of suspended animation in humans.

Hydrogen sulfide is a colorless, flammable gas that smells like rotten eggs. The gas is so deadly that one of the largest mass extinction events in history, the Permian Triassic Extinction, or “The Great Dying,” may have been caused by the chemical compound. This event happened more than 250 million years ago when the oceans became depleted of oxygen and hydrogen sulfide-producing bacteria survived. As a result, approximately 70 percent of land animals died.

At a level of 200 parts per million, equivalent to 200 drops in 13 gallons of water, hydrogen sulfide is deadly to humans within one to several breaths, but, as Roth has discovered, at 80 ppm, it can save a life.

Roth’s discovery represents a breakthrough in emergency medicine. For critically ill patients whose status is predicated on catastrophic blood loss, hydrogen sulfide can slow the patient’s metabolic functions to minimal activity for many hours, allowing the patient to be transported to an appropriate emergency care site.

Roth’s preliminary studies on mice published in Science Magazine indicates that a mouse may be resuscitated with no long term health effects after six hours of suspended animation.

Mark Roth helped to found the biomedical firm, Ikaria, which initiated clinical trials of hydrogen sulfide in 2010. If successful, scientists hope this gas can change the field of medicine and spur a new era of science and medicine that studies metabolic regulators.

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