Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Human hibernation: Secrets behind the big sleep

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Human hibernation: Secrets behind the big sleep 

The extreme survival tricks of hibernating animals… and the occasional human… could help us overcome life-threatening injuries, as Frank Swain discovers. 

Imagine it: you have been rushed into the emergency room and you are dying. Your injuries are too severe for the surgeons to repair in time. Your blood haemorrhages unseen from ruptured vessels. The loss of blood is starving your organs of vital nutrients and oxygen. You are entering cardiac arrest. 

But this is not the end. A decision is made: tubes are connected, machines whir into life, pumps shuffle back and forth. Ice-cold fluid flows through your veins, chilling them. Eventually, your heart stops beating, your lungs no longer draw breath. Your frigid body remains there, balanced on the knife-edge of life and death, neither fully one nor the other, as if frozen in time.

The surgeons continue their work, clamping, suturing, repairing. Then the pumps stir into life, coursing warm blood back into your body. You will be resuscitated. And, if all goes well, you will live. 

Suspended animation, the ability to set a person’s biological processes on hold, has long been a staple of science fiction. Interest in the field blossomed in the 1950s as a direct consequence of the space race. Nasa poured money into biological research to see if humans might be placed in a state of artificial preservation. In this state, it was hoped, astronauts could be protected from the dangerous cosmic rays zapping through space. Sleeping your way to the stars also meant carrying far less food, water and oxygen, making the ultimate long-haul flight more practical.

For the rest of the story: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20140505-secrets-behind-the-big-sleep

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