Pigs can breathe through their butts, sort of, and that's a big deal

A new discovery about mammals and their potential ability to 'breathe' through their rectum into the intestines has paved the way for a potential new way to treat humans suffering from severe respiratory issues. The research comes from the Tokyo Medical and Dental University and Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, revealing that pigs and rodents are both capable of 'intestinal respiration.'

The finding sounds absurd, but it isn't unprecedented. Certain aquatic organisms, including some catfish and sea cucumbers, can use their intestines to breathe in situations that call for it. This new study has found that pigs, rats, and mice can utilize intestinal breathing with increased odds of surviving in an extremely low-oxygen environment, as well.

The study involved the development of an intestinal gas ventilation system, which was used to pump pure oxygen through the rectum and into the intestines of mice. These mice were placed in an extremely low-oxygen environment — the kind that would result in death without supplemental oxygen — and 75-percent of them survived for 50 minutes with the intestinal breathing apparatus.

There was a downside to this system, however, which is that the gas ventilation apparatus resulted in 'abrasion of the intestinal mucosa,' meaning it wouldn't be a reasonable option to use with ill patients. To address this, the researchers came up with a different option: oxygenated perfluorochemicals in a liquid.

The oxygenated liquid was found to benefit pigs and rodents alike in low-oxygen environments, with more oxygen reaching their heart. Likewise, their oxygen levels increased, their coldness reduced, and the mice were able to walk farther in the low-oxygen chamber. The results hinted at potential future applications for humans.

The study's senior author Takanori Takebe explained:

The recent SARS-CoV-2 pandemic is overwhelming the clinical need for ventilators and artificial lungs, resulting in a critical shortage of available devices, and endangering patients' lives worldwide. The level of arterial oxygenation provided by our ventilation system, if scaled for human application, is likely sufficient to treat patients with severe respiratory failure, potentially providing life-saving oxygenation.