Lowering the body’s core temperature has been shown to decrease the likelihood of neurological damage in the event of oxygen deprivation. In a process known as “therapeutic hypothermia,” hospital medical staff will routinely administer chilled water blankets or insert cold drip catheters, in order to protect patients who have just experienced a cardiac arrest or stroke. What can be done, however, when someone has a heart attack far from a hospital? Well, in the near future, bystanders may be able to suit them up with a cooling vest – possibly saving them from permanent brain injury.

The vest is being developed at Germany’s Hohenstein Institute, by a team led by Prof. Dr. Dirk Höfer. Their prototype device incorporates water-filled cooling pads, which are connected by hose to an adjacent vacuum-pressurized sealed metal container. Inside that container are silicate minerals called zeolites, which are known for their ability to rapidly extract heat from water.

In the event of a cardiac arrest, the vest would be placed on the patient as soon as possible – this could be done by non-medical personnel, while they wait for paramedics to arrive. A valve in the system would then be opened, allowing the water in the pads to circulate through the zeolite container and back into the pads. This would cool the water to a near-freezing temperature very rapidly, in turn cooling the patient – ideally, it would bring their core temperature down to between 32 and 34ºC (89.6 - 93.2ºF). The whole process would be non-invasive, and not require any power source.

An infrared image of one of the cooling pads, illustrating how cold they get

Hopefully, by the time the patient regained normal cardiac function, the cooling effect would have protected them from any lasting brain damage.

Höfer and his team envision the vests being available for emergency use in public buildings, on municipal transit, and other places where everyday people may suddenly find themselves called upon to administer first aid. They are currently seeking an industrial partner to develop the product.

Source: Hohenstein Institute