X-Message-Number: 24474
From: "James Clement" <>
Subject: ESA to study Suspended Animation
Date: Thu, 5 Aug 2004 17:24:46 -0400


Published online: 03 August 2004; | doi:10.1038/news040802-8 
Could astronauts sleep their way to the stars?
Jim Giles 
Space agency plans studies on human hibernation. 


The state of suspended animation that astronauts enter during long-haul space 
flights is a staple of science-fiction movies. But now the European Space Agency
(ESA) wants to turn it into reality.

Agency staff are planning future research into the possibility of inducing a 
hibernation-like state in humans. "We are not sure whether it is possible," says
Marco Biggiogera, an expert on hibernation mechanisms at the University of 
Pavia, Italy, who is advising ESA. "But it's not crazy."

ESA believes hibernation would help astronauts to cope with the psychological 
demands of decades-long return journeys to destinations such as Saturn. And 
because less space and food would be needed on such missions, the spacecraft 
would be lighter and easier to launch.

Practical hibernation mechanisms are at least a decade away, says Mark Ayre of 
ESA's Advanced Concepts Scheme. But he and colleagues are already considering 
what research needs to done to bring such systems to reality.

One route of inquiry centres on DADLE (D-Ala,D-Leu-enkephalin), a substance with
opium-like properties. An injection of DADLE is known to trigger hibernation in
ground squirrels during the summer season, when the animals would normally be 
awake. It also seems to send cultures of human cells to sleep: the cells divide 
more slowly and their gene activity drops when the molecule is applied, say 
Biggiogera and his colleagues in the European Journal of Clinical 

      Researchers want to test DADLE in non-hibernating animals, starting with 
      rats. Carlo Zancanaro and colleagues at the University of Verona, Italy, 
      ran such an experiment last month and are currently analysing data from 
      sensors that tracked the animals' heartbeats and brain activity after 
      DADLE was applied.

      Muscle booster

      Researchers are following up other leads too. One downside of hibernation 
      is that it leads to loss of muscle strength, a problem that also afflicts 
      patients confined to bed after an operation. Zancanaro points out that 
      such bedridden patients retain more strength if they receive dobutamine, a
      drug used to boost the strength of heart 
      muscles2<http://www.nature.com/news/2004/040802/pf/#B2>, so a similar 
      treatment might work during hibernation.

      Biggiogera would also like to study the Madagascan fat-tailed dwarf lemur 
      (Cheirogaleus medius), revealed this year in Nature as the first primate 
      known to hibernate3<http://www.nature.com/news/2004/040802/pf/#B3>.

      The plan, which should be completed in around a year's time, will spell 
      out how such studies could be developed in order to investigate human 
      hibernation. As that unfolds, Ayre will analyse the engineering side of 
      the challenge. ESA wants to send a human mission to Mars in 2030, so he 
      and colleagues are drawing up paper plans for integrating a hibernation 
      system into the craft. The exercise should show how much energy and space 
      could be saved.




        1.. Vecchio L., Baldelli B., Malatesta M.& Biggiogera M. European 
        Journal of Clinical Investigation, 33. (suppl.) 49 (2003). 
        2.. Sullivan M. J., et al. Clin. Invest., 76. 1632 - 1642 (1985). 

        3.. Dausmann K. H., Glos J., Ganzhorn J. U & Heldmaier G, et al. Nature,
        429. 825 - 826 (2004). |  |


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