Nerd Guru

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Classic Nerd Guru: Making lemonade out of lemons and hibernating mice

Note: This article originally ran on March 15, 2007, is slightly edited for reprint in an effort to share previously published ideas with new readers.

This month's Wired magazine has a very cool story about DARPA's string of human enhancement projects:

Recall that these are the same good people (not Al Gore or even Tim Berners-Lee) who brought us the Internet. There is some very cutting edge stuff going on with enabling field soldiers to function more efficiently.

The article focuses on two specific projects. The first has to do with regulating body temperature and how it is really heat, and not chemical buildup as is commonly thought, that fatigues muscles over time. The key then becomes finding a way to cool those tissues in order to improve endurance.

The second project I found more interesting, though -- not because it is any more or less impressive than the first, but because its genesis sure is. It tells the story of biochemist Mark Roth. Ten years ago, he suffered about the most devastating loss that a parent can experience: the death of a child. Roth eventually rose from his sorrow with an interest in immortality, and that path ultimately led him to working with DARPA.

For a soldier, what happens in the first hour ("the golden hour") after an injury is suffered can be the difference between whether he or she lives or dies. In theory, if you could place a severely wounded soldier into a state of suspended animation within that first hour and then transport him or her to a more sophisticated facility than what is available in the field, the chances of recovery increase dramatically.

In 2005 DARPA held one of its famous contests that challenge scientists to achieve some set of criteria. This time, it was to keep a mouse alive for 3 hours with 60 percent of its blood lost, which simulates a lethal wound. Roth's studies took him from immortality to being able to stimulate a state of stasis in animals not known to normally hibernate. Using a combination of lowered oxygen levels and a dose of hydrogen sulfide (the latter inspired by a PBS show he saw on a caving accident), Roth was able to induce the mice into a hibernation-like state and then re-animate them after 10 hours.

Roth turned the loss of his daughter into the fuel for a research problem that shows potential to change the medical field forever. It is hard to think of another example where something so personally bad was turned into something so possibly good for all of society.

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posted by Pete Johnson @ 5:12 AM   0 comments

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