The potential medical benefits also include improving cancer treatment by allowing patients to tolerate higher radiation doses without damaging healthy tissue. Cancer cells, Roth explained, aren't dependent on oxygen to grow. As a result, they are more resistant to radiation than surrounding healthy cells, which need oxygen to live. Roth hypothesizes that temporarily eliminating oxygen dependence in healthy cells could make them a less-vulnerable target for radiation and chemotherapy and thus spare normal tissue during high-dose cancer therapy.
"Right now in most forms of cancer treatment we're killing off the normal cells long before we're killing off the tumor cells. By inducing metabolic hibernation in healthy tissue we'd at least level the playing field," he said. The delivery of such treatment could be as simple as an intravenous infusion of saline solution mixed with trace amounts of an agent that would interfere with the body's ability to use oxygen, Roth said.
Using oxygen deprivation to depress metabolic activity also might extend the amount of time that organs and tissues could be preserved outside the body prior to transplantation, Roth said. Yet another potential application of oxygen deprivation would include accelerating wound healing in patients, such as diabetics, whose ability to do so is compromised. This could reduce the number of amputations caused by irreparable tissue damage from wounds that won't heal. A wound to the skin allows the entry of oxygen, which initiates cell death. In healthy people, cell death subsides when a clot forms, which allows the healing process to begin. Exposing a diabetic's clot-resistant wound to an oxygen-free environment would speed the healing process.
While the notion of putting a human or a human organ into an oxygen-free state of biological limbo and then reversing the process at will with no