"Half the time in cardiac arrest, we get the heart going again, blood pressure is good, everything is going along," says Dr. Terry Vanden Hoek, director of the Emergency Resuscitation Center at the University of Chicago, "and within a few hours everything crashes and the patient is dead."
Cell death isn't an event; it's a process. And in principle, a process can be interrupted. The process appears to begin in the mitochondria, which control the cell's self-destruct mechanism, known as apoptosis, and a related process, necrosis. Apoptosis is a natural function, destroying cells that are no longer needed or have been damaged in some way. Cancer cells, which might otherwise be killed by apoptosis, survive by shutting down their mitochondria; cancer researchers are looking for ways to turn them back on. Becker is trying to do the opposite, preventing cells that have been injured by lack of oxygen from, in effect, committing suicide.