Human Hibernation gets closer

Discover Magazine’s May 2007 edition has an amazing up date on work being conducted into induced hibernation in mammals. In recent years news arose of dogs and pigs being aroused from a death-like state after several hours, and of mice being induced to go into metabolic slow-down by breathing the right concentration of hydrogen sulphide. As the Discover article relates the work has gone further with dogs and pigs being put into hibernation by hydrogen sulphide and the amazing story of a Japanese man, Mitsutaka Uchikoshi, who went into a hypothermic torpor for 24 days after being knocked unconscious.

Naturally the first thought for the medicos working with this surprise mammalian ability is the preservation of a patient’s life when they’ve suffered major injury. If they can be suspended in a low metabolic state, then transfers from incident site to an ER becomes infinitely easier, giving the victim a much needed time-extension. Also many different major surgical procedures would become much less risky if a patient’s blood pressure, heart rate and so forth can be slowed to a crawl.

Of course, for a space-minded thinker, the next questions are:

  • just how long can the suspension last?
  • how much can physiological requirements be reduced?
  • how easy is it to induce and revive from?
  • does it reduce radiation damage?
  • could it be used as a step towards total biostasis?
  • In fiction there’s a long tradition of suspended animation, either through extreme metabolic reduction and/or cryopreservation. The new prospect of a natural suspended animation in all mammals is a rather exciting step forward for the credibility of the concept. Another curious prospect is based on the observation that mice which have had their metabolisms reduced, but not all the way into torpor, are able to breathe an atmosphere with a much lower oxygen content than what would otherwise kill them. Perhaps this provides a way to allow people to adapt to non-standard atmospheres?

    James Blish’s 1965 novel, Welcome to Mars, uses just such a plot device to allow the protagonist to breathe the thin Martian air – as thickened by being at the bottom of Hellas. Unfortunately for Blish’s story a few weeks later Mariner 4 showed the Martian atmosphere was less than 1/10th of the expected density. Still he did correctly predict that there would be plenty of impact craters and what “canals” (channels) that existed would be geomorphological in origin. He also predicted a frozen sea of ice, which Mars Express potentially has discovered.

    5 thoughts on “Human Hibernation gets closer

    1. Hi tom991

      First glance, I’d say it’s some sort of PR hoax. Successful reanimation of a frozen human would’ve made scientific headlines world-wide yet all we see is an understated web-site.

      Oh well. Was a nice dream.

    2. Deinococcus radiodurans can survive a radiation dose about 3000 times higher than the amount that would kill a human. If we were able to genetically engineer humans to have this type of DNA repair mechanism then the concern about space radiation may be able to be set aside. However one possible mechansim is that the D. radioduran’s DNA is packed into tightly packed toroids which may assist repair. We probably couldn’t easily engineer that design into humans as it might have a host of unintended consequences. However we might be able to use D. radiodurans to maintain viable copies of human DNA despite interstellar radiation. Then, at destination, this could be inserted into a human egg from which a human could be cloned. All of this would help us keep an interstellar passenger’s weight to a minimum.

    3. Hi John

      I’m not sure that’ll be feasible for the human genome as it is rather more complex in its encoding than a bacterium – I don’t mean the raw DNA sequence, but rather all the epigenetic molecular tags and so on. What might be more reasonable is full body reconstruction via “organ printers” and storing the full chemical code of a human stem-cell for molecular constructors to build at the other end. All a bit “hand-wavium” heavy at this point in time, so I think we’re stuck with sending full humans or uploads for the time being. And even uploads are begging for an existence proof before we can say what’s possible and stable.

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