Saturday, February 13, 2010

Suspended Animation: No Kidding; but Not Quite Yet

"TED 2010: Mark Roth on Mice and Men and Suspended Animation"
Epicenter, Wired (February 11, 2010)

"In 2005, cell biologist Mark Roth made headlines when he published the results of studies showing that exposing mice to small amounts of hydrogen sulfide would put them into a state of 'suspended animation,' or hibernation, that could be reversed without ill effect.

"The hydrogen sulfide, or H2S, slowed their metabolic activity by 90 percent, dropping their core temperature from 37 degrees Celsius to 11 degrees and reducing their respiration from 120 breaths a minute to less than 10 breaths a minute. The mice survived six hours in this state and, when re-animated, exhibited no signs of damage...."

Sounds great. Just a few problems. One of them's aesthetic. Hydrogen sulfide is what makes rotten eggs stink. Another is more serious. Hydrogen sulfide, inhaled, will kill you.

Well, too much of quite a number of substances used in medicine will kill you. I don't see that as an insurmountable problem

Why Use Something that Stinks and Kills?!

Those hibernating mice were using less oxygen, their cells were operating more slowly - everything their bodies did had slowed down. A lot.

Contemporary western medicine can do some pretty remarkable things, provided that all the pieces of the patient get to the right medical facility fast enough. That can be a problem, even with today's transportation methods.

The Wired article touches on combat injuries, but I'll use an example that's a bit closer to home for me - and which you may find a bit more familiar, too.

Let's say there's a vehicular accident on the road between Sauk Centre, Minnesota, where I live, and West Union, about seven miles west. By the time first responders get there, one of the people involved is in really bad shape. Lungs damaged, losing blood fast.

The local hospital might be able to keep the person alive and ready for the air ambulance. The trick will be to keep the victim alive for the five or so minutes it'll take to get to the hospital.

If something like this hydrogen sulfide procedure works on human beings, and can be made as (relatively) inexpensive and easy to use as defibrillators are now, we might lose a whole lot fewer people on the way to the hospital.

Come On: "Suspended Animation?" That's Science Fiction Stuff

So were artificial hearts and re-attached limbs when I was growing up. Now, not so much.

If you say "hibernation," instead of "suspended animation," it sounds a little less like something from Star Wars. But it'd still be quite a trick, slowing down our metabolism and restarting it under controlled conditions.

Still, I may very well live to see a next-generation version of what they've been doing for mice as standard equipment in the local police cars.

Technology and political systems have been changing faster than usual for the last few centuries. And I don't see any indications that it's slowing down. All this change is happening too fast for some tastes. Me? I'm enjoying the ride.

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