On November 16, 2019, the New York Times published an article that we've all been waiting for most of our lives. Entitled "Hibernation Works for Bears, Could it Work for us too?," the article dives into whether human health can benefit from bear hibernation studies. I'm sure my teenage kids would love to obtain this superhuman ability. After surviving multiple Montana winters, I must admit that the idea intrigues me as well.
Times reporter Devi Lockwood interviews a team of researchers from Washington State University, who examined the genes of bears in hibernation. Lockwood notes that "[t]he team found that the bears’ fatty tissues changed the most during hibernation, whereas the muscle tissue hardly changed at all." Surprisingly, the researchers also discovered that muscle tissues do not atrophy because muscle cells do not "sleep" during hibernation. Instead, the muscle cells are active during this period.
Lockwood posits that research on hibernation could have positive impacts on organ transplants. If we could "hibernate" organs, scientists might be able to create organ banks and allow for more successful transplants. The reporter points out that figuring out how to turn genes on to hibernate might allow humans to experience extended space travel.
No matter what the team ultimately uncovers, once again grizzly bears have shown us the magic and wonder that is scientific research on wildlife.
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