Huhr? – or – Way Cool Science About When Death Means Death

May 11, 2007

Apparently death doesn’t necessarily mean your dead. At least not anymore. Recent science on the frontiers of human life/death has found that it isn’t the lack of oxygen that kills cells in a resuscitated body, but the presence of it.

Take a second to process that: seconds, minutes, even hours after the heart has stopped beating, cells aren’t quite dead yet. They’re ready for a new burst of life. But that new burst of life effectively causes them to go cancerous. Apparently mitochondria [we all know what mitochondria are, right?], the powerhouses of the cell, are also directly involved in apoptosis [cell death]. I won’t get into all the gory details [I’m done with cell biology forever!!! Or until it comes up again in some sort of future research, as it inevitably will…], but if you want to know more, check out Wikipedia.

Scientists have found that the sudden flux of oxygen after resuscitating a person leads apoptosis inducing cells to fail to distinguish between cancer cells and cells newly flooded with oxygen. In other words, a really bad time in Cell Town for those poor souls with new oxygen.

In other words, for the past century, we’ve been bringing people back from death in all the wrong ways. Where we should have slowly reoxygenated the body, or lowered body temperature to slow chemical processes, we’ve instead been doing CPR and using crash paddles to give the victim a sudden burst of oxygen. Woah wrong!

Isn’t that just cool? I mean, sure, it shifts the boundaries of death just a little further past any previous thoughts of ‘the point of no return,’ but I personally find that fascinating.

If you want the real science without my messing things up, check out the original article.

Enjoy all that oxygen pumping through your cells. Mm mm mm, cellular respiration.


2 Responses to “Huhr? – or – Way Cool Science About When Death Means Death”

  1. Mrs. O said

    Great story, it definitely makes sense and hopefully they’ll adjust the current CPR methods to take this into account. The article doesn’t go into the reason oxygen is so toxic during reperfusion, but from what I remember it had something to do with free radicals and release of mitocondrial proteins that activate apoptosis. (My thesis was on apoptosis, but I focused on what happened to the cell after activation, I didn’t care much what activated it, so my memory is fuzzy on that part).

    One criticism though, with their article. When the author writes “It looks to us,” says Becker, “as if the cellular surveillance mechanism cannot tell the difference between a cancer cell and a cell being reperfused with oxygen.” This is confusing and not really true. The “cellular surveillance mechanism” (mostly white blood cells, but many “normal” cells have the ability to phagocytize neighboring cells) is not just there for defense against cancer- it’s most common role is removal of dying or dead cells (that die of “old age”). So this is a normal process that’s happening all the time- I don’t know why he even mentioned cancer, except that it’s a buzzword people like to throw in. But this isn’t a big deal, it’s not wrong, just confusing.

  2. Dave in the West said

    Innnteresting. Never thought of it that way. Keep reading, Dave. I enjoy your findings. And Mr’s O’s criticisms of your findings. Haha.

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