Scientists think they may be able to unlock the same biological superpower in humans that allows animals to hibernate, which could transform medical care during routine surgeries and dire medical emergencies.
“It sounds like science fiction, but there is absolute biological truth to this, and we have used all sorts of comparative genomics and other tools to understand the universality,”Anne Yoder, Biologist from Duke University who studies hibernation
Hibernation is a process that occurs in warm-blooded animals. Scientists are interested in the mechanisms that allow hibernating animals to return to full activity shortly after waking and avoid the health problems that affect humans after a few weeks in bed.
Using ice packs and cooling blankets to temporarily lower the body temperature of patients who are critically ill can protect the brain by slowing metabolism, reducing swelling, and delaying brain cell death. A drug that puts people into hibernation would naturally follow.
To create a hibernation wonder drug, researchers must first discover which groups of genes are activated during the hibernation process. By combining collections of biological tissue from different hibernator animals with new databases of sequenced genomes, researchers hope to improve medicine.
SpaceWorks, an Atlanta-based aerospace engineering firm, is exploring how hibernation could protect astronauts from radiation damage, bone and muscle loss, and other health issues during six-month space missions to Mars. Hibernation could also make future space missions more affordable and feasible.
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