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Humans Hibernating??

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Via(CNSNews)

Federal Research is Exploring Potential for ‘Human Hibernation’

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded a $2,227,500 grant to explore the possibility of inducing a hibernation-like state in “non-hibernating mammals” such as humans.

Cheng Chi Lee, associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston, is the main man behind the research.

Lee discovered that a particular molecule–the 5-prime adenosine monophosphate (5’-AMP) molecule–can induce a short hibernation-like state in mammals that do not normally hibernate. He said he is now trying to find ways to maintain that state long enough to perform major surgeries that could save human lives.Although he is currently conducting the research on mice, Lee told CNSNews.com that he eventually wants to translate his findings to clinical practice.

“That’s what I think all scientists’ goals are, basically,” he said.

When an animal hibernates, he explained, its cells are deprived of the oxygen it receives during its waking hours. The cells can better endure this low-oxygen state when the animal reaches a state of hypothermia and its metabolism slows.

Similarly, a heart attack or stroke starves an organ of its oxygen. According to Lee, physicians have long been using cooling procedures to help human cells survive these conditions.

“If you follow the ambulance services now in response to heart attack–the first response when you reach a heart attack patient is to bring the body temperature down as quickly as possible while the patient is being transported to the hospital,” Lee said.

“If you cool the body temperature down, then you expand the window of preventing ischemia [oxygen-shortage] damage. It’s really simple, because if the cell is cooled, it needs less oxygen.”

Lee said the same principle applies to organ transplants. When the organ donor and recipient live in different parts of the country, the organ is preserved in an ice cooler or other refrigeration system during transport.

“It’s purely in a cool state, and the reason is that, as you cool the cells down, the need for oxygen decreases dramatically,” Lee said.

“This has been going on for a long time,” he told CNSNews.com. “Doctors have recognized this wonderfulness of the cooling process, but the catch in this area is that the cooling process is very difficult. It’s not very efficient.

“My hope is that by looking at how the body responds to the ability to cool, we can, down the road, provide a system to enhance the process,” Lee said.

In essence, Lee’s research may make hypothermia and human “hibernation” into clinical tools.

“The induction of hypometabolism in cells and organs to reduce ischemia damage holds enormous clinical promise in diverse fields, including treatment of stroke and heart attack,” Lee wrote in the Annual Review of Medicine in 2008.

The NIH Director’s Pioneer Award, which is funding this research, awards $500,000 annually to each researcher for five years. By 2011, this project will have cost $2.5 million. Lee said he hopes to apply for more NIH grants to fund his research for at least five or 10 more years.

“It takes some time for any tools to become common practice,” Lee explained. “If we can get something to clinical usage within five years, then I think we have done very well. That would be my dream. Even 10 years, it will be a very good achievement.”

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The Truth Tracker
Jason R. Bootie
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