DARPA Takes on Suspended Animation: Zombie Pigs, Squirrels, and Hypersleep

Remember all those SF movies where it takes suspended animation to travel to a distant planet or galaxy? Ripley, the buff female protagonist in the film Aliens, spends 57 years in “hypersleep” — without aging — before being rescued. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is now funding research that may one day bring humans to a zombie-like form of hibernation. The motivation, however, is not so much space travel as emergency trauma care for wounded soldiers on the battlefield.

Actual hibernation occurs when an animal such as a squirrel goes into a state of suspended animation: heart rate, metabolism and body temperatures drop significantly. When a mammal is in hibernation, its body temperature is usually only 2-4ºC above freezing (as opposed to perhaps 38ºC), oxygen consumption is 2% of normal rates, and heart rate decreases by a factor of one hundred.

DARPA is committing $9.9 million to the Texas A&M Institute for Preclinical Studies (TIPS) to research how hydrogen sulfide can block the body’s ability to use oxygen and induce a state of suspended animation. Because they have a cardiovascular system similar to humans, TIPS researchers Theresa Fossum and Matthew Miller think they can accurately predict human results from trials with anesthetized pigs. Using swine, the researchers are testing various compounds — some containing hydrogen sulfide — to find one that can safely keep the hemorrhaging animals “as close to death as possible.” Here’s a video on the TIPS research:

As reported by Popular Science, nearly half of soldiers killed in action die of severe blood loss after being wounded by gunshots or IEDs. When emergency trauma care is administered during that first “golden hour,” soldiers’ odds of survival are relatively good, but after that their odds begin to drop quickly. That’s why TIPS researchers are looking for a way to send the human body into a state of suspended animation, essentially “shutting down” the heart and brain until proper care can be administered.

Cagrnd squirrel. Photo: wired.comTo understand the mechanics of hibernation, researchers have turned to squirrels. During the winter months, squirrels go through an amazing metamorphosis: their 300 beat-per-minute heart rate slows to a mere two to ten beats, their oxygen consumption drops to one-fiftieth of normal, and their body temperatures fall essentially to zero. And yet they emerge from hibernation no worse for wear.

One Stanford University project (also funded by DARPA) tried using a pancreatic enzyme found in both species to put humans into a state of squirrel-like hibernation, and another used hydrogen sulfide to stop wounds from bleeding by stopping heart function in rats and worms. Stanford’s Craig Heller discovered how squirrels and other hibernators manage to regulate their core body temperatures, even as they become zombie-like. Those trials lead to an examination of the human temperature-control system, which led to a specialized glove-like device, built for the military.

Cheng Chi Lee, an associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston, discovered that the 5-prime adenosine monophosphate (5’-AMP) molecule can induce a short hibernation-like state in mammals (such as humans) that don’t normally hibernate. He’s now trying to find ways to maintain that state long enough to perform major, live-saving surgeries.

Turning pigs into “zombies” could mean the difference between life and death for wounded soldiers on the battlefield.

According to the Cybercast News Service, when an animal hibernates, its cells are deprived of the oxygen it receives during its waking hours. The cells can better endure this low-oxygen state when the animal reaches a state of hypothermia and its metabolism slows. Similarly, a heart attack or stroke starves organs of oxygen. According to Dr. Lee, physicians have long been using cooling procedures to help human cells survive these conditions.

“If you follow the ambulance services now in response to heart attack — the first response when you reach a heart attack patient is to bring the body temperature down as quickly as possible while the patient is being transported to the hospital,” says Lee. “If you cool the body temperature down, then you expand the window of preventing ischemia [oxygen-shortage] damage. It’s really simple, because if the cell is cooled, it needs less oxygen.”

Lee said the same principle applies to organ transplants. When the organ donor and recipient live in different parts of the country, the organ is preserved in an ice cooler or other refrigeration system during transport.

Medevac helicopter. Photo: popsci.comMore recently, a US-Chinese team of researchers has identified differences in expression levels between proteins and messenger RNA (mRNA) between hibernating and non-hibernating arctic squirrels, suggesting “substantial post-transcriptional regulation of proteins during torpor-arousal cycles of hibernation.”

The study, published in a recent issue of the ProteoMonitor, asserts that hibernation “involves complex mechanisms of metabolic reprogramming and tissue protection.” Previous studies looked primarily into changes at the mRNA level. The newly published study identifies “significant differences” in mRNA levels in hibernating and non-hibernating ground squirrels — the transcripts of mRNA “are protected while translation is inhibited during torpor. Therefore protein variety and abundance can be very different from corresponding gene expression at the mRNA level, and differential protein expression may more directly reflect regulatory changes related to hibernation.”

A form of squirrel-like hypersleep-hibernation would help solve a great many of the problems involved in sending humans interstellar distances. And metabolic and genetic research is zeroing in on what makes squirrels tick. But more immediately, turning pigs into “zombies” could mean the difference between life and death for wounded soldiers on the battlefield.

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  7. This may be a major breakthrough coming straight out of sci-fi movies.Suspended Animation may be helpful for wounded soldiers in battlefield but more research needs to be done since it may surely have side effects and moreover Hydrogen sulphide is a toxic substance.

  8. Suspended Animation to help wounded soldiers in battlefield may be a good Idea.But further research needs to be done since this surely may have side effects and more over Hydrogen Sulphide is toxic.
    This may become a major breakthrough coming straight out of sci-fi movies.

  9. this is not for us sheeple it is for the likes of soro’s and kissenger types.
    I have a question where does DARPA get 9.9 million from ? From US taxpayers or is it private donations ?

  10. i love transhumanism :)

    keep it up guys your awesome magazine is very informative and interesting.

    Best wishes from Lyon in France

  11. Who will be kidnapped to supply these demon scientist their human Guinea pigs? I will not get on an operating table now that we have been invaded by the organ snatchers.

  12. Do you really think the field and or study of trans-humanism is for the benefit of your or any other of the many simple sheeple roaming the planet??
    i detest trans-humanism because it is the elite selfishly using their greed/power/to promote themselves as demi-gods and to that end they need an immortal vessel or one which can be renewed at intervals to attain their projected immortality. this is so against creation and the original intent of the Creator, that it stands as a mockery directly thereto. you should research such a serious topic much before leaving such an impudent and careless statement to such a potentially dangerous and (species) changing agenda.

  13. No need to kidnap ppl these days. We have the sheeple in the US armed forces to volunteer for that.

  14. We know how this sort of research ends – the failed experiments , i.e., zombies! break out of the research center, eating brains and creating more zombies as they go. Soon civilization falls.

    Why oh why does my beloved A&M have to be the cause of civilization’s end?

  15. Agree, this is not for us sheeple it is for the likes of soro’s and kissenger types.
    I have a question where does DARPA get 9.9 million from ? From US taxpayers or is it private donations ?

  16. If you don’t like it – don’t do it.
    They won’t install the appliances or apply the medical techniques to keep you alive if you don’t want them to; don’t try to stop them from installing mine.
    Don’t concern yourself whether I will live forever – you won’t have to suffer my company for very long, relatively speaking.

  17. It truly is amazing the advancements they are coming up with to help decrease the rate of soldiers lost in battle. This is only the tip of the iceberg!

    Rich,
    Venapro

  18. Nice this is right down the road. Reminds me of some of the natural sugars for pumping into people to stop the cell wall from crystallizing and such. Thank you for the extra info on the topic. I hope it saves a lot of life. :)

  19. Nice this is right down the road.Reminds me of some of the natural sugars for pumping into people to stop the cell wall from crystallizing and such.Agree, this is not for us sheeple it is for the likes of soro’s and kissenger types.

  20. Agree, this is not for us sheeple it is for the likes of soro’s and kissenger types. Don’t concern yourself whether I will live forever – you won’t have to suffer my company for very long, relatively speaking.

  21. Ok all you people that bash the US military get your head from your behind it is people like us that keep communist from invading this country or any other form of threat so you so called AMERICANS or whatever give respect to your military men or women we are the line of defense that keeps you guys sleeping at night.