At UHN, we strive to deliver Compassionate Care & Caring. Learn more about the services and supports that are available to you throughout your journey.
Our UHN programs and services are among the most advanced in the world. We have grouped our physicians,
staff, services and resources into 10 medical programs to meet the needs of our patients and help us make
the most of our resources.
At the heart of everything we do at UHN are our Healthcare Professionals. Refer a patient to one of our 12 medical programs. Learn more about the resources and opportunities available for professional growth.
University Health Network has grown to be one of the largest research and teaching hospital networks in Canada - pioneers in improving the lives of patients. Our long history of health professions education at Toronto General, Toronto Western, Princess Margaret and Toronto Rehab hospitals has consistently advanced the science of education.
University Health Network is a health care and medical research organization in
Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The scope of research and complexity of cases at UHN has made us a national and international
source for discovery, education and patient care.
Being touched by illness affects us in different ways. Many people want to give back to the community
and help others. At UHN, we welcome your contribution and offer different ways you can help so you can find one that suits you.
The Newsroom is the source for media looking for information about UHN or trying to connect with one
of our experts for an interview. It's also the place to find UHN media policies and catch up on our news stories, videos, media releases,
podcasts and more.
Toronto (Nov. 12, 2020) – A staggering three million deaths occur every year as a result of the harmful use of alcohol, according to the World Health Organization.
Present in alcoholic drinks, ethanol, normally referred to as "alcohol," affects every part of the human body. Brain function, circulation and even nail growth are impacted. When a certain level of blood alcohol concentration is reached, the intoxication can damage organs and lead to death.
In a study published Nov. 12 in
Scientific Reports, a Nature Research Journal, a team of researchers led by UHN's Dr. Joseph Fisher presents a proof of concept of a simple method that could become a game-changer in rescue therapy for severe alcohol intoxication, as well as just "sobering up."
Normally, 90 per cent of the alcohol in the human body is cleared exclusively by the liver at a constant rate that can't be increased. Currently there is no other method, short of dialysis, whereby alcohol can be removed from the blood. This leaves as the only options to treat life-threatening alcohol levels supportive measures such as giving oxygen, intravenous fluids, breathing assistance, and treating any heart issues with drugs.
The principle behind the UHN team's approach is simply to recruit the lungs to breathe out the alcohol. The harder the breathing, it was reasoned, the more alcohol is eliminated. The team found that indeed, hyperventilation eliminated the alcohol at least three times faster than through the liver alone.
"But you can't just hyperventilate, because in a minute or two you would become light-headed and pass out," explains Dr. Fisher, anesthesiologist and Senior Scientist at the Toronto General Hospital Research Institute.
When hyperventilating – breathing deeper and more rapidly than normal – the body eliminates carbon dioxide from the blood along with the alcohol. The decrease of this gas in the blood is the cause of symptoms such as light-headedness, tingling or numbness on hands and feet, and fainting.
Dr. Fisher and his team used a device that allows the patient to hyperventilate off the alcohol while returning precisely the amount of carbon dioxide to the body to keep it at normal levels in the blood – regardless of the extent of hyperventilation. The equipment is the size of a small briefcase and uses a valve system, some connecting tubes, a mask, and a small tank with compressed carbon dioxide.
"It's very basic, low-tech device that could be made anywhere in the world: no electronics, no computers or filters are required," says Dr. Fisher. "It's almost inexplicable why we didn't try this decades ago."
This study is the first scientific demonstration that the basic rate of alcohol elimination could be substantially exceeded by using hyperventilation.
This study is a proof of concept performed in the laboratory with volunteers. The authors recommend following up with further validation studies to understand how this technology could be applied in a clinical setting.
*(Dr. Fisher and Dr. Olivia Sobczyk, associate scientist at UHN)
Dr. Joseph Fisheris the co-founder of Thornhill Medical, a for-profit spin off company from UHN. He is one of the inventors of the ClearMateTM, which was developed by Thornhill Medical for the elimination of volatile hydrocarbons, including for treatment of carbon monoxide poisoning.
University Health Network consists of Toronto General and Toronto Western Hospitals, the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, and The Michener Institute of Education at UHN. The scope of research and complexity of cases at University Health Network has made it a national and international source for discovery, education and patient care. It has the largest hospital-based research program in Canada, with major research in arthritis, cardiology, transplantation, neurosciences, oncology, surgical innovation, infectious diseases, genomic medicine and rehabilitation medicine. University Health Network is a research hospital affiliated with the University of Toronto.
Phone: 416 340 4636