Reversible Metabolic Hibernation

GeekMom Health Technology

Q. What do Russian peasants and a Swedish radiologist have in common?

A. They have experienced reversible metabolic hibernation.

In the case of the peasants, they self-induce a hibernated state throughout the winter on an annual basis to avoid starving to death.

In the case of the radiologist, she was trapped in icy water for 1 hour and 40 minutes during a 1999 skiing accident. But she didn’t die of hypothermia. She was revived and is completely cognizant and healthy today. Similar kinds of accidents, leading to apparent death, and miraculous revival have also been told by mountain climbers. For more detailed stories about the skier, the Siberian peasants, some yogis, and more, read The Curious Case of Human Hibernation.

I’m fascinated by the story of the starving peasants and their bear-like survival technique because I’m a geek for historical context. I’m even more thrilled by the scientific research inspired by accidental cases of suspended animation that have been reversible, such as the case of the Swedish skier. Note the common formula: lowered metabolic rate + extreme cold = viable life.

Sci-fi geeks like me dream of technology that will allow astronauts to travel long distances and terra-forming scientists to sleep while a new planet’s evolution works its magic. But why wait for futuristic cryo tubes? Science research has caught up with our dreams!

Watch the 2010 TED talk by Mark Roth. He’s found a way to put mammals into a state of suspended animation, keep them cold, and then reanimate them.

Mark Roth and his team are very close to finding a practical way to make this happen for humans now, maybe this year, certainly in this decade. He calls it “reversible metabolic hibernation” and he wants EMT crews to put people who are experiencing life-threatening medical trauma into suspended animation, until they can be given the life-saving care they need. Then the individual will be reanimated, receiving a gift of immortality.

P.S. In mid-winter I wrote about the Art of Hibernation, and I still believe that even though modern life gives us electric lights, heat pumps, and convenient transportation, all sorts of ways to ignore the season, humans need more rest during the coldest, darkest season. But until I found the New York Times 1906 article “HUMAN HIBERNATION: A Practice Common with Famine-Stricken Districts of Russia” I had no idea that, as recently as a century ago, some Siberians practiced hibernation for six months of a year.

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