Sunday, April 24, 2005

Hibernating Humans

The Washington Post reports, "Scientists have induced a state close to suspended animation in a mammal for the first time, a long-sought achievement that could lead to a host of medical advances for people. " This, they did to mice, by exposing them to low concentrations (80 parts per million) of hydrogen sulfide gas. Note that mice (like humans) don't number among those mammals that hibernate naturally. Yet the process slowed the mice's metabolisms by about 90 percent. After six hours, the researchers exposed the mice to fresh air. The mice quickly began to waken. After two hours, they showed every sign of functioning normally.

Wow. In terms of life-saving potential, this good news ranks up there with the discovery of general anesthesia. Assuming, as seems plausible, that the same process will work on humans, induced hibernation will prove useful for a wide variety of medical treatments. Because it preserves organs and other tissues while slowing metabolism to a near standstill, it will buy time for critically ill patients awaiting organ transplants, minimize the damage from heart attacks and strokes, and reduce the side effects of cancer chemotherapy and radiation.

Of even more general interest, induced hibernation offers a kindler, gentler alternative to cryonic suspension. Each of us living today faces the risk of death, a risk that advancing medical technology stands to radically reduce. Induced hibernation can help us win in the race between death and technology. Facing a currently uncurable illness, you could go into hibernation until science catches up with your problem. And the treatment wouldn't face all the (mostly ill-founded but still quite influential) objections that currently dog cryonics! If, like me, you love life, you can join me in rejoicing over this news.


Anonymous said...

I think the need for sleep evolved to protect mammals from the dangers in the darkness. If a pill were invented to eliminate the need for sleef then effectively you have doubled your lifespan. I've heard of lucky people that only require a few hours of sleep a night. If I didn't have to sleep, I'd work at night and do all the fun stuff like going to the beach during the daylight hours. Although some people have frequent and enjoyable dreams, I think for the most part sleeping is a pitiful waste of precious time, roughly 33% of your life for most people.

-Mr. Sandman

Tom W. Bell said...

Maybe you've pegged the evolutionary explanation for sleep. But why, then, do dolphins sleep? Possessing sonar, they need not fear the darkness. And yet then apparently do sleep, albeit with only one-half of their brain at a time. It seems more likely to me that sleep plays a vital role in memory consolidation.