Despite rigorous health screenings, medical incidents during spaceflight missions cannot be avoided. With long-duration exploration flights on the rise, the likelihood of critical medical conditions with no suitable treatment on board will increase. Therapeutic hypothermia (TH) could serve as a bridge treatment in space prolonging survival and reducing neurological damage in ischemic conditions such as stroke and cardiac arrest. We conducted a review of published studies to determine the potential and challenges of TH in space based on its physiological effects, the cooling methods available, and clinical evidence on Earth. Currently, investigators have found that application of low normothermia leads to better outcomes than mild hypothermia. Data on the impact of hypothermia on a favorable neurological outcome are inconclusive due to lack of standardized protocols across hospitals and the heterogeneity of medical conditions. Adverse effects with systemic cooling are widely reported, and could be reduced through selective brain cooling and pharmacological cooling, promising techniques that currently lack clinical evidence. We hypothesize that TH has the potential for application as supportive treatment for multiple medical conditions in space and recommend further investigation of the concept in feasibility studies.
Keywords: cardiac arrest; cerebral ischemia; spaceflight medicine; targeted temperature management; therapeutic hypothermia; traumatic brain injury.