Hybernating To Get Well?

Our culture is rife with stories, ranging from the sociological (Rip Van Winkle) to science-fiction (movies like Forever Young), that describe cheating time to outrace responsibility, old age and disease. In another science-fiction-turned-fact study, scientists have managed to induce suspended animation in mice, without harming them.

In a condition described to be a lot like the natural process of hybernation many animals undergo during the winter, researchers forced mice to breathe air containing 80 ppb of hydrogen sulfide. After five minutes, the bodily functions of the mice were significantly reduced (for example their body temperature was cut some 40 percent).

Scientists let them sleep for six hours under the gas. After cutting the gas off, the mice began breathing and soon acting, normally. The process is very similar to rare cases in which the body's metabolic rate is slowed to a crawl when it's submerged in icy water. Although scientists are unsure if or how such a process will work on humans, expect to see some results within the next five years.

One perceived benefit envisioned by researchers: A patient suffering from a massive trauma like a heart attack or stroke could be hibernated on the way to the hospital. Just another great example of a flawed health care system that brings so much technology to bear to treat emergencies, but does little to nothing to promote optimal health that can prevent such things from happening in the first place.

New York Times April 26, 2005 Registration Required

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