A report from The Columbus Dispatch details the ongoing research into the hibernation of bears and other animals and how scientists are trying to relate it to human sleep.
Scientists have puzzled for decades over the evolutionary tweaks that have allowed bears and other hibernating animals to lie still through the winter, forgoing food and water, yet emerge with their health intact come spring.
Researchers believed that if they could better understand how the animals did it, they might apply the insights to humans, developing new drugs or medical treatments, for example, or ways for astronauts to survive long space flights in a hibernationlike state.
But progress has been slow, the bear den holding its secrets tightly. And in December, the field suffered a further setback, when a highly publicized hibernation study was retracted after one of the authors was found to have manipulated the data.
Yet the advent of technologies such as gene sequencing and sophisticated imaging techniques over the past few decades has given investigators hope that they eventually will be able to harness aspects of the bear’s exceptional physiology for human use.
Last month, in a session on hibernation and human health at the 24th International Conference on Bear Research and Management in Anchorage, scientists presented more than a dozen studies, including research on bears’ cardiovascular system, muscle chemistry, kidney functioning, fat storage and metabolism.