The Big Sleep?
May 3, 2005
Human Hibernation Becomes Thinkable
Today's science news feature article, Mice in 'suspended animation', suggests the tantalizing possibility of sleeping away the years. One model of how this might work could possibly be a situation in which someone with, viz., a terminal illness (such as aging) would sleep for some number of days, arising for a normal 16-hour day every so many days catching up on what's going on, eating, drinking, taking a shower, etc., and then returning to hibernation. This could, possibly, slow down one's rate of aging by a factor of several, allowing additional years for the development of a cure for the hibernator's's disease. (Practically speaking, the "professional sleeper" would probably have to roused every few days for a nocturnal visit to the bathroom.) This assumes that this hibernation could be achieved repeatedly and for extended periods of time without harming the human hibernator. This benign outcome isn't guaranteed. Similar studies lowering the human metabolic rate have pointed to side effects such as brain damage, blood clotting, and immune-system compromise.
A new Seattle company, Ikaria, has been established to pursue these possibilities.
Such a hibernator would have to have an independent means of support. Special quarters might be required, cooled to, or slightly below the body temperature(s) of the hibernating subject(s). Only a small fraction of the resources characteristic of normal living would be required, so economies might occur. However, someone would also be needed who would monitor the states of the hibernating subjects, since they wouldn't waken in the normal manner in an emergency.
Ten or more years would probably elapse before hibernation might be FDA-approved for clinical applications, and then it would probably be restricted to surgical patients and similar short-term hospital emergencies..