How hibernating animals are helping doctors treat diabetes and Alzheimer's
People go to sleep, their bodies cool down, and their skin turns blue, as electronic monitors show the heart rate and respiration plummeting almost to nothing. That’s the kind of dramatic image of human hibernation we see in science fiction. Usually, the premise is that characters must spend long time periods travelling through outer space without dying of old age, or writers and futurists have imagined such a capability applied to patients with terminal diseases, so they can be revived when cures have been developed centuries later.
Real-life research into human hibernation, often called suspended animation, may eventually transform those sci-fi images into science fact, but in the near-term, hibernation is poised to transform medicine.
Physicians today already employ mild therapeutic hypothermia - they lower core body temperature of patients by a few degrees - to slow metabolism, routinely after cardiac arrest. It’s also routine to cool patients to facilitate certain operations, such as open-heart procedures, including valve replacement and coronary artery bypass surgery (CABG). Less frequently, doctors lower body temperature by more than a few degrees and clinical trials are underway to stall death for a couple of hours by lowering body temperature to just a few degrees above freezing in victims of severe blood loss trauma.
The latter scenario amounts to short-term, but real-life, suspended animation. While therapeutic hypothermia is standard in hospitals, scientists are trying to steal tricks from hibernating animals, such as ground squirrels.
“Thermoregulatory re Continue reading