Raytheon funds $100,000 Suspended Animation research

Raytheon Missile Systems, the region's largest employer, has donated $100,000 to the University of Arizona's department of surgery.

The gift will fund research on the treatment of wounded soldiers on the battlefield and on civilian trauma victims who come into the emergency department.

A UA news release says specific research areas will include developing devices to detect and treat chest injuries, new human-based resuscitation fluids, and new treatments to stop bleeding. Studies also will focus on traumatic brain injury, tissue transplantation and a last-ditch lifesaving method of the future called suspended animation.

"Advancement for war fighters also will have an immediate impact at home as it will be just as applicable for civilian trauma," said Dr. Peter Rhee, the UA's chief of trauma, critical care and emergency surgery.

Rhee, a former battlefield surgeon for the U.S. military, has been researching suspended animation for the past 15 years and is a leading innovator in the field. The technique that Rhee developed and perfected on research animals while in the military would work by injecting a patient with a cold, potassium-rich solution used to preserve kidneys for transplant. That puts the patient in a state of suspended animation, which makes the heart stop and protects the brain.

The cold fluid takes the patient's body temperature down to severe hypothermia - about 50 degrees Fahrenheit - but it has been proved to not have long-term effects on brain function, Rhee said.

The method allows surgeons to work on repairing the patient's injuries for about 60 to 90 minutes while the body is in suspended animation, and the heart during this time is not beating. Medical researchers are trying to figure out ways to make that period last longer.

UA surgery chief Dr. Rainer Gruessner said innovative research is crucial to discovering new treatments and cures, and to retaining "the high-caliber academic trauma and surgical teams we have at the University of Arizona."

The University of Arizona Medical Center has Southern Arizona's only top-level trauma center and it's the busiest trauma center in the state.

The trauma center costs about $47 million per year to operate, and this year $3.3 million of that came from state Indian gaming revenue. Last year, $4.7 million in Indian casino profits went to UMC. The amount that trauma centers in Arizona receive in casino money each year varies depending on profit.

The local trauma center also receives about $200,000 in state tobacco tax money per year.

Tucson-based Raytheon Missile Systems employs about 10,500 people and is the largest employer in Southern Arizona, according to the Arizona Daily Star's 2010 survey of the area's top 200 employer.

Contact reporter Stephanie Innes at jspitz@azstarnet.com or 573-4134.
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