There’s nothing more satisfying or more cleansing than sucking in a deep breath of fresh air. Unfortunately, clean air is increasingly hard to find. Cities, especially in quickly industrializing countries like China and India, are choking in clouds of smog and particulate. A recent scientific breakthrough provides a possible window into what life on Earth might be like if the air becomes truly un-breathable. The study details the development of an oxygen gas-filled microparticle that could keep us alive, even if we can’t perform the physical act of breathing. Meet us after the jump to learn more about how it works.

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As chilling as it is to think about a future in which air itself is toxic to humans, the revolutionary oxygen particle was developed with more practical applications in mind. There are medical conditions, like a collapsed lung or blocked windpipe, that make it impossible to draw in oxygen from the atmosphere. In this type of emergency, there are precious few options for keeping a patient alive. Researchers say an oxygen particle that could be delivered directly to the bloodstream could be a life-saving alternative.

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“The microparticles are actually tiny capsules (2-4 micrometers tiny) made of a single layer of lipids surrounding a small bubble of oxygen gas. The capsule is suspended in a liquid so that the bubbles don’t get any bigger,” explains Geekosystem’s Sam Maggs. “Upon injecting the capsule-filled liquid into the bloodstream, the capsules crash into your red blood cells, transferring the oxygen gas from the capsule to the cell. About 70% of the oxygen injected successfully makes its way into the blood stream this way,” Maggs continues.

It sounds incredible, but in laboratory tests it worked surprisingly well. “When the microparticles were infused by intravenous injection into hypoxemic rabbits, arterial saturations increased within seconds to near-normal levels; this was followed by a decrease in oxygen tensions after stopping the infusions. The particles were also infused into rabbits undergoing 15 min of complete tracheal occlusion. Oxygen microparticles significantly decreased the degree of hypoxemia in these rabbits, and the incidence of cardiac arrest and organ injury was reduced compared to controls,” report the study authors.

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The scientists hope that the oxygen microparticles could lead to a technique for short-term rescue of patients with abnormally low levels of oxygen, to deliver oxygen to at-risk organs, or for new diagnostic techniques. And maybe, just maybe, to keep us alive in a toxic future world.

Via Neatorama

Air bubble image via Shutterstock, baby image via Phillipe Put