“Researchers induced hibernation in a non-hibernating species (rats) with ultrasound, indicating the potential to do the same in humans with applications for medical trauma and spaceflight,” writes Baron_Yam, Reader longtime from Slashdot. The research was published in the journal Nature Metabolism. From a report: “Ultrasound is the only available form of energy that can noninvasively focus on any location in the brain with high precision and without ionizing radiation,” said Hong Chen, a medical ultrasound researcher at the Washington University in St. Louis and co-author of the article. The Daily Beast in an email. “We were curious if ultrasound could noninvasively activate the switch to induce the state of torpor”
Torpor is a state in which mammals reduce their metabolism and body temperature, and essentially slow down their entire system in order to conserve as much energy as possible. The authors write that the condition is controlled by the central nervous system. So the idea is that targeting the hypothalamus, which controls the nervous system, could potentially induce hibernation. It should be noted that while mice enter such a state during periods of extreme cold, rats do not. The team developed an ultrasound emitter and mounted them on the head of mice. They then fired 10-second pulses of ultrasound on the hypothalamus, which caused the creatures’ body temperature to drop an average of 6 degrees Fahrenheit, heart rate and oxygen consumption immediately. . The team was also able to automate their device so that it blasts the mice’s brains with ultrasound whenever their body temperature rises, allowing them to safely maintain a state of torpor for up to 24 hours. Within two hours of the experiment, the animals were able to fully recover.
The study authors were also able to replicate the experiment in rats – another creature that does not hibernate – for up to 12 hours and found similar results. However, the rats’ body temperature dropped an average of 2 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit instead of 6, which is partly due to the fact that they don’t naturally hibernate. However, it shows that they can achieve a state of torpor with the right technique. Of course, more research is needed to determine if it is effective on humans. Chen added that the team hopes to eventually move the technique to human trials. They might be able to prove that brain blasting ultrasound is a great way to rest us like bears do.