Hibernation May Hold the Key for Treatment of Stroke and Heart Disease

07 October 2001


Now that it is autumn, many animals will be preparing to bed down and sleep off the winter. Although humans can't hibernate, we might be able to learn some valuable medical lessons from animals that can. For instance, when it hibernates, the Arctic ground squirrels heart rate drops from about 200 beats per minute to only 5 per minute, and the body temperature can fall to as low as -2.9 degrees centigrade. A human could never survive these extremes. What's more, the blood flow falls to such a low level that it would rapidly kill the brain in a normal person, yet the animal awakes perfectly healthy when the weather warms up. Researchers are therefore trying to unlock the secret of what is happening to the metabolism in these animals because it may be possible to use the same trick to treat people with strokes or heart disease, or to make donated organs such as hearts, livers and kidneys remain in healthy condition to longer before they are transplanted into the waiting recipient. So are we any closer to understanding the mystery of what makes animals hibernate ? Well, one American researcher, Dr. Peter Oeltgen from the University of Kentucky, believes that he has found a gene, which he has called HIT, short for Hibernation Inducing Trigger, which he hopes to try out on people with illnesses caused by low blood flow, such as strokes and heart disease.


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