Scientists Study Hibernation for Humans

By KBJR News 1

January 25, 2011 Updated Jan 25, 2011 at 11:19 AM CDT

Duluth, MN (Northland's NewsCenter) Imagine being able to forgo eating for seven months, sleeping for days at a time, and lowering your body temperature well below normal with no ill effects.
Sounds crazy, but hundreds of species do it every winter.
Now researchers at the University of Minnesota–Duluth are studying these animals to see how hibernation...may help the human race.
Trevor Roy puts us in touch with the scientists behind the study.

Suspended animation used to be the realm of science fiction and comic books.
Characters would spend months or even years frozen and when they awoke, they hadn't aged a day.
While that's still a ways off, researchers at UMD are studying hibernating mammals hoping to apply what they learn to new therapies and treatments for humans.

"To understand just small aspects of this, could be very helpful, from muscle disuse atrophy, or something like low blood flow as seen with stroke these are the sorts of things that are very important that these animals can contribute too."
Doctors Matthew Andrews and Lester Drewes have been studying mammals like the ground squirrel more commonly known as the golden gopher to observe the bio–chemical reactions during hibernation.

"Hibernating animals like squirrels they are able to have very reduced blood flow, very reduced oxygen consumption in their brain and other tissues and yet there's no pathology, this isn't damaging to their tissues."

Those traits may be able to help people suffering from extreme blood loss, preserve organs for transplants longer, and even help with obesity.

"These animals have their last meal in October and they don't eat again until April, so they have to live on their body fat how do they selectively live off body fat could this someday be useful for people who are overweight."

But how about allowing humans to live longer, not just by months, but years?
Researchers say that's quite a few years off, but within the realm of possibility.
In Duluth, Trevor Roy, The NorthlandsNewsCenter.

The work of the UMD researchers will be featured on the PBS program NOVA science now, that airs on Wednesday at 7.