(ORDO NEWS) — Cryonics, which develops technologies for preserving people and animals by deep cooling of the body, is one of the promising areas of medicine.
Research in it will help not only slow down the course of deadly diseases, but also help people of the future travel in outer space.
In 1999, Swedish Anna Bogenholm experienced the unthinkable: while skiing, she fell through the ice and, as a result of severe hypothermia, her heart stopped beating.
For several hours the woman was practically dead, her body temperature dropped to 13.7 degrees Celsius. But she was rescued, and after 10 days in the hospital, she opened her eyes.
How did Anna Bogenholm survive this incident and survive?
Now scientists are trying to understand what exactly happens in living cells during strong cooling, although so far they are not working with people, but with the tiny soil worm Caenorhabditis elegans, which has been serving biologists as a model object for almost half a century.
Studying the reaction of worms to cooling, scientists found that lowering the body temperature of worms prolongs their life: they kept animals at a temperature of four degrees Celsius for a whole week (this is at least a quarter of the short life of a worm), and after returning to active life, the worms lived on average for a week longer than their unfrozen counterparts.
Further research revealed that C. elegans is able to survive the cold in a special protein in which iron is stored in our body, ferritin.
In normal times, ferritin acts as a trap for free iron atoms, but when the temperature drops, it performs protective functions and prevents cold from damaging living cells.
Curiously, when scientists made mammalian neurons produce ferritin and then exposed them to cold, they survived the temperature drop much better than normal cells.
The effect of some drugs that mimic the work of ferritin also had a similar effect.
Having studied the reaction to cold in C. elegans , scientists plan to continue their research on the closest human relatives – primates.
Although C. elegans and humans are far apart phylogenetically, our basic cellular processes are the same, and in the future, knowing how to safely put the human body in cold suspended animation will help slow down neurodegenerative diseases (such as Alzheimer’s disease ) and allow humans to survive months-long journeys in space.
So far, scientists have outlined only the immediate prospects – to study the effect of ferritin produced in cells on the ability of living mammals, such as laboratory mice, to endure the body’s cooling.
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