A Milestone towards Artificial Hibernation
In order for humans to explore other stars, we need to find solutions to the logistical problems that come with space travel, such as the long travel times required.
Traveling to other stars is a significant challenge due to the vast distance of space and the limitations of current human technology. For example, the Voyager 1 probe would take 73,000 years to reach the nearest star, Proxima Centauri, at its current speed.
While more recent spacecraft may be able to travel faster than Voyager 1, the journey to other stars would still take thousands of years using current technology.
One potential solution to the problem of long travel times could be generation ships, where multiple generations of space travelers live and die during the journey to the final destination. Another potential solution could be artificial hibernation, if it can be successfully implemented.
Scientists from the Shenzhen Institute of Advanced Technology have begun investigating the use of chemical triggers to induce a state of hypothermia in monkeys.
The researchers used a chemogenetic strategy to activate a specific subpopulation of neurons in the preoptic area (POA) of the brain, which reliably induced hypothermia in both anesthetized and freely moving macaques.
The findings demonstrate the central regulation of body temperature in primates and could have potential applications in clinical practice in the future.
Hibernation and torpor are physiological states that allow animals to withstand adverse conditions, such as extreme cold and low oxygen, by lowering body temperature and slowing metabolism to a minimum level to prevent atrophy while still maintaining life.
Neuroscientists Wang Hong and Dai Ji of the Shenzhen Institute of Advanced Technology wanted to investigate whether it was possible to artificially induce a state of hypometabolism or hibernation in primates by manipulating neurons in the hypothalamus that are responsible for sleep and thermoregulation processes.
The research was conducted on three young male crab-eating monkeys using drugs designed to activate specific modified receptors in the brain called Designer Receptors Exclusively Activated by Designer Drugs (DREADDs). The researchers applied the drugs to the monkeys in both anesthetized and non-anesthetized states.
The scientists studied the effects of the drugs using functional magnetic resonance imaging, behavioral changes, and physiological and biochemical changes.
The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans to investigate the brain-wide network changes that occurred as a result of activating the preoptic area (POA) in the brain. This was the first fMRI study to investigate the brain-wide functional connections revealed by chemogenetic activation.
The researchers found that a synthetic drug called Clozapine N-oxide (CNO) reliably induced hypothermia in both the anesthetized and awake states in the macaques. In the anesthetized monkeys, the CNO-induced hypothermia resulted in a drop in core body temperature, preventing external heating.
The researchers concluded that this demonstrates the critical role POA neurons play in thermoregulation in primates.
The researchers recorded behavioral changes in the awake monkeys and compared them to those of mice with induced hypothermia. In mice, hypothermia typically leads to decreased activity and a lower heart rate in an attempt to conserve heat.
In contrast, the monkeys showed an increased heart rate and activity level, and also began shivering. This suggests that thermoregulation in primates is more complex than in mice, and that any potential attempts at artificial hibernation in humans would need to take this into account.
The researchers concluded that this work is a milestone in the long path towards artificial hibernation, and that the hypothermic monkey model they created is a promising development in the growing field of human spaceflight.
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