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April 22, 2005

BehindTheMedspeak: Suspended Animation Achieved in Mammals


Today's issue of Science magazine contains a paper with immense implications.

Entitled "H2S Induces a Suspended Animation–Like State in Mice," the report comes from a lab at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and University of Washington in Seattle.

Mark B. Roth (above) led the study, in which mice which do not naturally hibernate were placed in a chamber filled with normal air containing added low levels of hydrogen sulfide.

Rob Stein wrote in a story which appeared in today's Washington Post:

    Within five minutes of being placed in the chamber the mice stopped moving and lost consciousness.

    Their breathing dropped from a normal rate of about 120 breaths per minute to fewer than 10.

    Their oxygen consumption plummeted, and their body temperatures fell from 98.6°F to a low of 51.8°.

    Eventually, their metabolic rate slowed by about 60%, coming virtually to a halt.

    After six hours, the mice were removed from the chamber and placed in a room with regular air.

    They quickly began to stir, and their metabolic functions began slowly to recover.

    Within two hours, they were back to normal.

My thoughts after I read the article:

1) Hydrogen sulfide is an immensely malodorous component of the gas emitted with flatulence. It has been my experience that after a generous serving of baked beans and a little time the level of hydrogen sulfide in my bedroom must be much higher than 80 parts per million, the concentration that put the mice into suspended animation.

This leads to two thoughts:

a. It's no wonder I've always appeared young for my age — I have always enjoyed a heaping dish of beans; and

b. It's not a surprise I sleep so well.

An aside: I remember once a girlfriend and I ate as many baked beans as we could just to see how stinky we could make the air in the bedroom.

It got so bad in the middle of the night we couldn't sleep and fled to another room.

Now that's some serious gas. But I digress.

2) Notwithstanding what I just wrote, Ray Kurzweil has already ordered a supply of hydrogen sulfide for his bedroom.

3) Michael Jackson picked the wrong gas when he decided to sleep in a hyperbaric chamber to keep himself looking youthful: instead of 100% oxygen, all he needed was a little marsh gas added to his bedroom's usual atmosphere.

4) People with terminal illness are going to jump on this finding with alacrity: I mean, what would you do if you had a fatal disease for which a cure was perhaps five or ten years away?

Here's the abstract of the Science magazine article.

    H2S Induces a Suspended Animation–Like State in Mice

    Mammals normally maintain their core body temperature (CBT) despite changes in environmental temperature.

    Exceptions to this norm include suspended animation–like states such as hibernation, torpor, and estivation.

    These states are all characterized by marked decreases in metabolic rate, followed by a loss of homeothermic control in which the animal's CBT approaches that of the environment.

    We report that hydrogen sulfide can induce a suspended animation-like state in a nonhibernating species, the house mouse (Mus musculus).

    This state is readily reversible and does not appear to harm the animal.

    This suggests the possibility of inducing suspended animation-like states for medical applications.

April 22, 2005 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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