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In science fiction, space crews are frequently spared the boredom and inconvenience of lengthy-distance space travel by getting placed into a state of suspended animation. Now this aim may perhaps have come a step closer immediately after scientists showed that hibernation can be artificially triggered in rodents making use of ultrasonic pulses.

The advance is noticed as substantial due to the fact the method was successful in rats – animals that do not naturally hibernate. This raises the prospect that humans may perhaps also retain a vestigial hibernation circuit in the brain that could be artificially reactivated.

“If this proves feasible in humans, we could envision astronauts wearing a helmet-like device created to target the hypothalamus area for inducing a hypothermia and hypometabolism state,” stated Hong Chen, an associate professor at Washington University in St Louis, who led the function.

The group 1st identified a precise group of neurons in a deep brain area named the hypothalamus preoptic location, which had been located to be involved in regulating physique temperature and metabolism throughout hibernation. They showed that, in mice, these neurons could be artificially activated making use of ultrasound, delivered non-invasively by way of a helmet.

When stimulated, the mice showed a drop in physique temperature of about 3C for about a single hour. The mice’s metabolism also shifted from making use of each carbohydrates and fat for power to only fat, a important function of torpor, and their heart prices fell by about 47%, all when at space temperature.

The scientists also created an automatic closed-loop feedback method that delivered an ultrasound pulse to maintain the mice in the induced torpor if they showed indicators of warming up. This permitted the mice to be kept at 33C in the hibernation-like state for 24 hours. When the ultrasound method was switched off, they woke up once more.

The experiments, described in the journal Nature Metabolism, showed that the similar device worked in rats, which had a 1C drop in core physique temperature when the similar brain area was targeted. Chen stated the outcome was “surprising and fascinating” and the group planned to test the method in bigger animals.

In humans, inducing a torpor-like state has prospective health-related applications, with some suggesting that slowing down metabolism could acquire important time for treating life-threatening situations such as heart attack and stroke. “By extending the window for health-related intervention, this method delivers promising prospects for enhancing patients’ possibilities of survival,” stated Chen. “Additionally, the non-invasive nature of the method opens the possibility of creating wearable ultrasound devices, such as helmets, for quick access in emergency scenarios.”

Prof Martin Jastroch, of Stockholm University, who was not involved in the study, described the function as a breakthrough. “Everything they see recapitulates what you see in nature,” he stated.

“They can also do this in rats, which is very thrilling,” he added, saying that “the possibility is very high” the similar method would, theoretically, function in humans. “We may have some residual skills there. Just before this paper no a single was even considering of how you could experiment with that in secure manner.”

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