Though carbon monoxide (CO) is known to have long lasting harmful effects on heart, a new study suggests that the lethal gas can actually be beneficial for patients undergoing cardiopulmonary bypass (CPB) surgery.
The study led by Torsten Loop has found that car exhaust (or CO) may promote cell survival and reduce lung inflammation in CPB patients.
Nearly 2 percent of patients undergoing cardiac surgery suffer from life-threatening lung injuries and mortality rates for these patients can exceed 60 percent.
The study conducted using pig models showed that low doses of inhaled CO may provide anti-inflammatory effects.
"Cardiac surgery is one of the most extreme situations a patient can face," said Dr. Loop.
"Although a heart-lung machine ensures that organs are supplied with blood, and therefore oxygen, the nature of heart surgery means that normal operation of the lungs is impaired - potentially resulting in lung injury.
"Our findings support that inhaled CO provides anti-inflammatory effects in the lungs and decreases the instance of cell death during CPB.
"Additionally, and of greater importance, these effects occurred when CO was administered as a pre-treatment - with the advantage of short exposure time, which limits how avidly CO can bind to hemoglobin," Loop added.
CO can be lethal when allowed to freely bind to the hemoglobin within red blood cells as it inhibits blood's ability to carry oxygen.
Dr John G. Laffey, of the Clinical Sciences Institute, National University of Ireland said that the study might open new avenues.
"A fascinating aspect of this study is that pre-treatment with CO before CPB was effective in protecting the lung," said Dr. Laffey.
"These findings may support evidence that CO can trigger the body into a state that helps to protect it against the sometimes damaging effects of CPB" he added.