What Ever Happened with H2S Induced Hibernation?
I wrote this post on April 22, 2006
One year ago today, something extraordinary happened...
Mark Roth at Fred Hutchison Cancer Research Center in Seattle announced the astounding ability to induced hibernation in mice by having them breathe 80 parts per million (ppm) hydrogen sulfide gas (H2S). Yes, that's the gas that smells like rotten eggs.
Not only did these critters fall asleep for six hours, their heart rate and respiration dropped by 92% - apparently replicating the effects of true hibernation. And their temperature dropped to 2 degrees C above ambient temperature. They in effect became cold-blooded.
It should also be noted, when the gas was removed, the mice awoke with no apparent ill effects. The critters could still run their maze in a normal fashion.
There are hints that H2S Induced Hibernation might be a natural defense mechanism or at least a normal biological process. It appears this H2S gas is produced by the body under certain conditions and may be the key to normal hibernation. This may also be the cause of "Cold Water Shock Reflex" in which those who have "drowned" in cold water come back to life.
At 80 ppm, H2S can not simply be replacing O2 in the blood which exist at 210,000 PPM in typical air. It seems that H2S acts more like a hormone causing ALL cells in the body to slow down at the same time. Is H2S the body's way of adjusting the thermostat?
Hold on! I'm way out of my element here. I'm not qualified to do biology. I'm not even qualified to write about it.
But I DO considered this ASTOUNDING news! And indeed the world reported it. Well at least in a tepid way (sorry about the pun). From the BBC to the Washington Post they did at least rehash Mark's original work. Even Wikipedia added three paragraphs to the Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S) page. I was impressed with that.
But THAT was it...
No follow-up questions.
No follow-up answers.
No in-depth reporting.
No detailed analysis.
No flying out to Seattle.
No camping on the lawn.
No helicopter shots.
No checking tax returns.
Hell, Tom Cruise jumps up and down on a couch and the media follows him around for weeks! Where is the coverage for the stuff that REALLY counts? Oh well. I would wait. There was sure to be more news on the topic in a short time. So I set my Google news reader and waited...
And I'm still waiting.
It's been one year. Other than some comments from an aging blog and one think tank, there has been nothing at all. Nothing! Am I way off base or is this NOT a Nobel class discovery?
Where's the follow-up from Mark Roth?
Where's the H2S Induced Hibernation blog?
Where are the frat boy posts about their flatulent experiments?
Where's the Flatliner crew?
Where's Kiefer Sutherland when we need him?
Where are all the science fiction plots?
When I read the news release last year, I thought follow-up would be like the coverage for Cold Fusion a few years ago - lots of people trying to reproduce the results. Maybe we would even get some quick test with humans.
What's a geek to do? There's only one thing. Ask the questions that SHOULD have been asked a year ago. So here goes.
Does this Roth effect work longer than six hours?
Does it work for days?
Does it work for weeks?
Does it work for months?
Does it work on other larger mammals?
Does it work on humans?
Any obvious side effects?
Any long term side effects?
How long can someone stay under without ill effects?
Does this low-level metabolism consume fat like it does in bears?
Does muscle tone also atrophy?
Does this low-level metabolism extend life?
Is 80 PPM a threshold or is there a proportional effect at 40 PPM? 20 PPM?
What happens at 160 ppm? Is the sleep deeper? (yes, I know H2S is deadly at higher concentration, but so is table salt).
Is this truly a natural feature of mammals? If H2S is produced internally, can the effect be induced by meditation? If so, how does one exit the state?
I could go on and on but you get the idea. To get the answers to these and other questions, first they have to be asked. And then asked by the right people. That's what this blog post is all about. We need the right people asking these questions - not me.
There's a saying in the world of finance, "Capital finds it's highest and best use". This seems to take a little longer with science. It also takes imagination, speculation and a whole lot of promoting.
Promotion is important. America was not named for Columbus. America was named for a navigator and blogger of the fifteenth century - Amerigo Vespucci. His letters were published widely on his return from the new world. He didn't discover anything, but promoted what he found. The name stuck.
That's why H2S Induced Hibernation now needs to be all about blogs, Digg and Wikipedia. It's up to us. It's time for some speculation. Maybe even some speculative fiction. We need serious talent applied to finding the answers to the above and other questions. More discussion may help.
Here are some ideas as to how H2S could be used. Maybe this will help move things along.
Time in trauma care - This one is obvious. With such low concentrations of H2S needed, a simple regulator mask in first aid kits might extend that "Critical Hour" to a "Critical Day" giving time to do a better job with transport, evaluation, and treatment. It's easier to stop bleeding when the heart is only pumping eight times per minute. It's easier to keep cells alive when their demand for resources has dropped by 92%.
Mine Disasters - During the recent mine disaster in West Virginia, the miners only had air for one hour. Could this have been extended to 12 hours by adding a little H2S to those respirators? Coal mine accidents are an even bigger problem in China with over 6,000 dead per year. Think of the lives that could be saved even if a small percentage had this advantage.
Fire Escape - Since most fire deaths are caused by smoke inhalation, many extra minutes could be gained with one of those new and improved masks from the coal mine? Check the first-aid kit. Is it there yet? Again, the lives saved would be in the thousands world-wide.
Underwater Rescue - Another good application for limited oxygen? And maybe a re-make of the movie Abyss? Lots of possibilities here.
ALL incurable disease - This is a no brainer. Got a problem? Take a break for a while. Wake up to review the literature. Take another break. Repeat until cured.
Medical scheduling - Waiting for an organ? Make sure you have enough time. It's better than death.
Military Use - Lot's of possibilities here, from trauma to transport. Here's where Kiefer Suterland comes in with a new release of 24 Hours lived in 24 years. How's THAT for a challenge to his premise?
Sleep Efficiency - How about all that time we waste sleeping? Might we extend our life by taking it deeper? Or maybe the opposite, and find out how to shorten sleep? Keep an open mind.
Weight Loss - this could be a biggie, both in terms of dollars and quality of life. Let's say you're not a fan of winter anyway. Why not do like the bears do? You could wake up ready for your new spring swim suit.
Capital Punishment - This is a bit radical, but at least it's not a death sentence. And they aren't causing any problems in the mean time. In time we might even find a "cure" for murder.
Pregnant Mothers - This might at first seem radical too, but Mark Roth's page refers to "embryonic diapause, a pause in embryonic development found in about 70 species of mammals". It might be useful one way or the other. Don't count it out.
Punishment - What the hell. Let's put them ALL on ice as a cost reduction measure! We could count it as good time. Would it still be punishment? Fun to think about. (note - after I wrote this I found one blog post at World Think Tank that talked about using H2S for prison riot control. Could we extent this to riot control in general?)
Athletes - Since I'm getting radical, how about extending the performance window of our very best athletes? We could give them the option of waking up every four years in time to train for the Olympics. The other option would simply be to let them "rest" off season.
Space Travel - Yep. Classic application. Maybe we could finally do some. There are at the very least, some fresh movie plots here, or the chance to make them more realistic.
Time Travel - This is of course relative and one direction. But how about sleeping a few weeks at a time and find yourself subjectively rushing forward into the future? It might be fun.
Tivo for life - This is an extension of the time travel idea - sort of fast forward when you want, live life when YOU want. Let's say you're a basketball fan but hate the rest of the year - beep, beep, beep. Treat the boring parts of life like one big commercial. Live life on YOUR terms!
Tivo for the heart - Will H2S sleep dampen a heartache? I think Heinlein used this in "Door Into Summer". Would it help? Who knows. If you've ever been there, anything's worth a try.
Tivo for the soul - Could this be the ultimate form of meditation? Stay awake for only short slices of life and jump WAY into the future. Would it give you a different perspective? Would you dream? Would it matter?
Anyway, you get the idea. The point is, there are LOTS of possibilities not being effectively promoted. Feel free to ad yours below. These examples are why it's so important to know...
H2S Induced Hibernation useful?
It's been a YEAR!
Clue us in.
Or is everyone, "No Longer Sleepless in Seattle" ?
BTW, amazing work Mark. Congratulations.
07-28-16 HOW SCIENTISTS ARE BRINGING PEOPLE BACK FROM THE DEAD
01-20-16 Being frozen ‘to death’ saved this man’s life. It could save others,’ too.
06-21-15 The role of endogenous H2S production during hibernation and forced hypothermia: towards safe cooling and rewarming in clinical practice
Apparently "Torpor" is the new handle for this technology:
Mass extinction is a great reason to hibernate:
In this case, documents were revealed from a Naval Surgeon in 1805. The headline is about "Bizarre naval experiments" and the focus is tobacco smoke and deliberate transmission of venereal disease, when the real story is quite probably the first documented case of suspended animation.
When will they ever "get it"?
04-21-10 Significant advancement and recognition for the concept of induced hibernation!
I revisit this topic each year. It appears there's been significant progress. Look through my list of uses below to understand why, and how important this discovery is. Or start with Mark Roth's latest TED video at the end of the post.
Another major update 02-18-10 - Wired Interview