Induced Hibernation May Be The Key To Curing Terminal Cancer Cases
Scientists around the world are working very hard to come up with an effective treatment of cancer and everyday some new and crazy idea comes along. Latest research suggests that hibernation combined with radiotherapy may be the solution to fighting cancer in the future. Putting patients in a state of hibernation could hypothetically slow down body’s function as well as halt the spread of the tumor. This will also help in increasing the body’s resistance to radiation.
It’s going to be a long while before this process is attempted on humans but it seems that it has some strong basis. Previous researches showed that when rats’ bodies were cooled down to 15 -19 degrees Celsius, a state of hibernation was induced. This slowed down the metabolic functions and at the same time increased resistance to radiations. According to physicist Marco Durante from the Trento Institute for Fundamental Physics and Applications in Italy, a similar approach can be used for cancer patients and can be used for stage-4 patients where the tumor is very widespread.
At the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Boston on Sunday, he said, “You cannot treat all the metastasis – you cannot use surgery everywhere to remove the cancer or do radiation in all the affected parts of the body or you will kill the patients trying to destroy the cancer. But if you could put the patient into synthetic torpor [induced hibernation] you could stop the cancer growing. It gives you more time." Humans don’t hibernate like many animals do and currently scientists are figuring out ways to induce similar states not only for medical treatments but also for safe long-term space travel.
This inducing hibernation phenomenon is still very hypothetical and was a subject of Durante’s recent research. According to the researcher it is just a matter of time before hibernation becomes possible for humans as well. He said, “Now it is understood how it works, I'm confident we will be able to develop drugs that can induce this torpor. We are aiming for at least one week [of hibernation]. It gives us time to deliver all the treatments that are needed to make the person cancer-free."
For hibernation to be possible, according to Durante, the human body temperature of about 37 degrees Celsius needs to be reduced to around 13-15 degrees. Researchers believe that when tissue activity is extremely low it is possible that the damage from high doses of radiation will be minimal. High doses which would normally kill a person could be used in terminal cases without harming the patient. Well, all this sounds interesting but what is science without a good debate? Other scientists have put forward their opinion on the matter and believe that we should get carried away by Durante’s propositions and comments.
The researchers opposing Durante’s view believe that we don’t even know whether it would be safe to put humans in hibernation. Even if the hibernation is safe there is no guarantee that there will be resistance to radiation like that observed in animals. Chief clinician at Cancer Research UK, Peter Johnson, told the New Scientist, “The effects of a technique like induced hibernation on cancers are hard to predict: they might help or hinder the treatments we use. We will need to see some careful experiments in laboratory models before we can say whether this would be safe or effective for people."
Durante, however, is pretty confident about what he says and believes that hibernation will be possible in the next decade or so. He said, “We can currently cure around 50 percent of cancers. The problem is the other 50 percent. If this approach works, there will be many of these patients with multiple metastases who will have hope. It will be a really huge step ahead." Many questions come to mind at this point. If hibernation becomes possible, what will be the ethical concerns involved, will the entire process be worth the risk etc. It is going to be a long while before we get all the answers to our questions so let’s see what happens next.