Brighton, UK: Chilling the body with a giant frozen vest could save patients whose hearts stop from permanent brain damage, according to experts.

It is well known that lowering body temperature reduces the brain’s need for oxygen, and so can protect the effects of oxygen-starvation which occurs during a cardiac arrest. Research has shown that a patient is 20 per cent more likely to survive and recover fully if cooling therapy is used alongside other emergency treatment such as a defibrillator. However, until now paramedics were limited in ways in which to achieve this - especially outside of a hospital setting.

Now there is the CAERvest, developed by a Brighton-based emergency medicine consultant, which uses no energy sources or wire. Instead, the paramedic or doctor fills the portable device, which is made up of a series of sealed chambers - just like an inflatable mattress - with water via a tube. Chemicals inside the vest rapidly cool the water to minus four degrees. It stays at this temperature for more than an hour. The vest is then placed over the casualty’s torso.–MO

The polyurethane vest has already been trialled at both the London and Brighton marathons this year where it saved three heatstroke victims’ lives. 

The device is set to be used in ambulances and in emergency helicopters across the UK, as well as at mass sporting events.

Until now, A&E doctors have used chilled ice baths or ‘the taco method’ of wrapping a patient in wet sheets, and pouring water over them. However, these are not always practical if the patient is suffering a fit or in distress.

Devices that cool the head itself are ineffective as the skull is too well insulated. Instead, clinicians aim to lower entire body temperature. Testing has shown the CAERvest is able to reduces the patient’s body temperature by one degree approximately every eight minutes.

Dr Rowley Cottingham, who helped developed the CAERvest, hopes to see one available alongside every public defibrillator.

He says that the vest could guarantee a better recovery for patients if used in addition to a defibrillator, a device that uses an electric shock to rebalance the heart’s rhythm. 

He said: ‘Research has already shown that more than 20 per cent more patients have survived and had a good outcome if treated with cooling treatments in addition to a defibrillator compared with those just treated with a defibrillator.

‘Our hope is this vest will reduce the number of people who die from a cardiac arrest and those suffering long-term damage.’

He added: ‘People tell me the idea is so simple, they can’t believe it didn’t already exist - and can’t believe that we relied on throwing buckets of water over patients before.’