Giving the Cold Shoulder to Cardiac Arrest Complications

ice-cubeThe phrase “therapeutic hypothermia” sounds like a contradiction in terms. How could hypothermia, or dangerously low body temperature, be therapeutic? Yet according to a recent Reuters article, a treatment known as therapeutic hypothermia is saving the lives of cardiac arrest patients in hospitals across the U.S.

According to the article, out of the estimated 300,000 patients who experience cardiac arrest in the U.S. each year, only 8 in 100 leaves the hospital alive. Even if doctors manage to restart the heart, many patients wind up with debilitating brain damage. Brain damage can occur in two ways. First, ischemia, or insufficient blood flow to the brain, may cause brain cells to die off. Second, restarting the heart floods the brain with oxygen, sending the brain into panic mode. Oxidative stress, microvascular clogging, free radical production and inflammatory responses may result, leading to brain damage.

In therapeutic hypothermia, the patient’s body temperature is reduced by several degrees in an effort to slow brain cell and organ death. Physicians wait 12 to 24 hours and then slowly warm the patient back up. A 2009 analysis of earlier studies found that therapeutic hypothermia could increase the chance of surviving cardiac arrest with intact brain function by more than half. The use of therapeutic hypothermia has increased since 2005, when the American Heart Association issued guidelines for using the treatment on comatose cardiac arrest patients. Nearly 500 out of 5,000 hospitals in the U.S. are using therapeutic hypothermia, an AHA spokesperson told USA Today last March.

If therapeutic hypothermia continues to gain usage in hospital settings, new opportunities could open up for companies such as Velomedix. The Menlo Park, Calif.-based medical device company is focused on using mild therapeutic hypothermia to prevent organ damage in patients suffering from cardiac arrest, heart attack, stroke, and traumatic brain injury. The company’s technology is based on using the peritoneal cavity, the fluid-filled space within the abdomen that contains several vital organs, as a channel for rapid heat extraction. In November 2009, Velomedix announced that it had raised $3.5 million in a first round of preferred stock. Wavepoint Ventures, one of the company’s investors, includes this description of Velomedix on its website: Velomedix’s technology has the potential to effectively induce hypothermia in a manner that is safer and many-fold faster than existing technologies.

Velomedix is scheduled to present at the OneMedForum San Francisco 2011. To learn more about the conference, which highlights the most promising life science companies of today, visit

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