(CTN News) – In science fiction, hibernation space crews are often placed in suspended animation to avoid boredom and inconvenience of long-distance space travel.
In recent years, scientists have demonstrated that ultrasonic pulses can be used to artificially trigger hibernation in rodents.
As a result of the technique’s effectiveness in rats, which do not naturally hibernate, it is recognized as a significant breakthrough. Humans may also possess a vestige of this hibernation circuit in their brains, which may be artificially reactivated.
“Hong Chen, an associate professor at Washington University in St. Louis, has suggested that astronauts could wear helmet-like devices designed to target the hypothalamus region in order to cause hypothermia and hypometabolism.
It was discovered that a particular group of neurons in a deep brain region called the hypothalamus preoptic area regulate body temperature and metabolism during hibernation. A helmet-based ultrasound delivery system was used to artificially activate these neurons in mice.
A drop in body temperature of approximately 3C was observed in the mice after being stimulated for approximately one hour. Additionally, their metabolic rate shifted from using carbohydrates and fat for energy to only using fat, a key characteristic of torpor, and their heart rates decreased by 47%, all at room temperature.
A closed-loop feedback system was also developed that delivered an ultrasound pulse to keep the mice in induced torpor if they showed signs of awakening. By doing so, the mice could be kept at 33C in a state similar to hibernation for 24 hours.
Following the switch-off of the ultrasound system, the patients awoke once again.
In experiments reported in the journal Nature Metabolism, the same device resulted in a 1 Celsius drop in core body temperature when the same brain region was targeted.
It is anticipated that the technique will be tested on larger animals in the future, as Chen described the results as “surprising and fascinating.”
The induction of a torpor-like state in humans may have medical applications. It has been suggested that slowing down metabolism may allow life-threatening conditions, such as heart attacks and strokes, to be treated earlier.
“This technique presents promising prospects for improving patients’ chances of survival by extending the window for medical intervention,” said Chen.
Further, due to the non-invasive nature of the technique, wearable ultrasound devices, such as helmets, may be developed for easy emergency access.
Professor Martin Jastroch of Stockholm University, who was not involved in the hibernation research, described the work as a breakthrough. It is clear from everything they see that it is a replica of what you see in nature.
There is also the possibility of doing this in rats, which is quite exciting,” he explained, adding that “the chances are quite high” that the same procedure could be applied to humans in the future.
“We might still have some residual abilities in that area. There was no consideration of how this could be experimented with in a safe manner before this paper was published.”
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