Suspended animation

Suspended animation

Suspended animation is the slowing of life processes by external means without termination. Breathing, heartbeat, and other involuntary functions may still occur, but they can only be detected by artificial means. Extreme cold can be used to precipitate the slowing of an individual's functions; use of this process has led to the developing science of cryonics. Cryonics is another method of life preservation but it cryopreserves organisms using liquid nitrogen that will preserve the organism until reanimation. Laina Beasley was kept in suspended animation as a two-celled embryo for 13 years.[1][2]

Placing astronauts in suspended animation has been proposed as one way for an individual to reach the end of an interstellar or intergalactic journey, avoiding the necessity for a gigantic generation ship; occasionally the two concepts have been combined, with generations of "caretakers" supervising a large population of frozen passengers.

Since the 1970s, induced hypothermia has been performed for some open-heart surgeries as an alternative to heart-lung machines. Hypothermia, however, only provides a limited amount of time in which to operate and there is a risk of tissue and brain damage for prolonged periods.




In June 2005 scientists at the University of Pittsburgh's Safar Center for Resuscitation Research announced they had managed to bring dogs back to life, most of them without brain damage, by draining the blood out of the dogs' bodies and injecting a low temperature solution into their circulatory systems, which in turn keeps the bodies alive in stasis. After three hours of being clinically dead, their blood was returned to their circulatory systems, and the dogs were revived by delivering an electric shock to their hearts. The heart started pumping the blood around the frozen body, and the dogs were brought back to life.

While most of the dogs were fine, a few of the revived dogs had severe nervous and movement coordination damage, causing them to be mentally disabled, and demonstrating behavior that was deemed "zombie" like. This has been pushed further by the media which named them "zombie dogs".[3] There is concern that this technique, if used on humans could result in brain damage similar to those suffered by some of the dogs in the experiment. In extreme cases, doctors can now use induced hypothermia which reduces brain and heart activity to a minimum. This allows doctors to have more time to heal or diagnose a patient.

On 20 January 2006, doctors from the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston announced they had placed pigs in suspended animation by a similar technique. The pigs were anaesthetised and a major blood loss was induced. After they lost about half their blood the remaining blood was replaced with a chilled saline solution. As the body temperature reached 10 °C (50 °F) the damaged blood vessel was repaired and the blood was returned. The method was tested 200 times with a 90 percent success rate.[4]


An article in the 22 April 2005 issue of the scientific journal Science reports success towards inducing suspended animation-like hypothermia in mice. The findings are significant, as mice do not hibernate in nature. The laboratory of Mark B. Roth at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, placed the mice in a chamber containing 80 ppm hydrogen sulfide for a duration of 6 hours. The core body temperature of the mice dropped to 13 degrees Celsius and metabolism, as assayed by carbon dioxide production and oxygen use, decreased 10-fold.[5]They also induced hypoxia on nematode embryos and zebrafish embryos, placing them in suspended animation for hours, and then re-animating them simply by returning the oxygen to the embryos.

Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston announced they had been able to hibernate mice using the same method. Their heart rate was slowed down from 500 to 200 beats per minute, respiration fell from 120 to 25 breaths per minute and body temperature dropped to 30°C (natural: 39°C). After 2 hours of breathing air without hydrogen sulfide the mice returned to normal. Further studies are needed to see if the gas had poisonous effects on the brain.[6]

Experiments on sedated sheep[7] and partially-ventilated anesthetized pigs[8] have been unsuccessful, suggesting that application to large mammals may not be feasible.

Human hibernation

There are many research projects currently investigating how to achieve "induced hibernation" in humans.[9][10] This ability to hibernate humans would be useful for a number of reasons, such as saving the lives of seriously ill or injured people by temporarily putting them in a state of hibernation until treatment can be given. NASA is also casually interested in possibly putting astronauts in hibernation when going on very long space journeys, though they are not funding any research to this effect.[citation needed]

There are cases of accidental human hibernation. The most recent is the case of Mitsutaka Uchikoshi, a Japanese man who survived the cold for 24 days in 2006 without food or water when he fell into a hypothermic state similar to hibernation.[11]

See also


  1. ^ "Longest frozen embryo baby born". BBC News. 6 July 2005. Retrieved 14 January 2009. 
  2. ^ "Triplets born 13 years apart". Times Online. 6 July 2005.,,11069-1682474,00.html. Retrieved 24 January 2010. 
  3. ^ Jennifer Bails (29 June 2005). "Pitt scientists resurrect hope of cheating death". Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Retrieved 10 October 2006. 
  4. ^ "Doctors claim suspended animation success". The Sidney Morning Herald. 20 January 2006. Retrieved 10 October 2006. 
  5. ^ Blackstone, E.; Morrison, M.; Roth, M. (2005). "H2S induces a suspended animation-like state in mice.". Science 308 (5721): 518. doi:10.1126/science.1108581. PMID 15845845.  edit
  6. ^ "Gas induces 'suspended animation'". BBC News. 9 October 2006. Retrieved 10 October 2006. 
  7. ^ Haouzi P, Notet V, Chenuel B, Chalon B, Sponne I, Ogier V, Bihain B (2008). "H2S induced hypometabolism in mice is missing in sedated sheep". Repiratory Physiology &Amp; Neurobiology 160 (1): 109–115. doi:10.1016/j.resp.2007.09.001. PMID 17980679. 
  8. ^ Li, Jia; Zhang, Gencheng; Cai, Sally; Redington, Andrew N (January 2008). "Effect of inhaled hydrogen sulfide on metabolic responses in anesthetized, paralyzed, and mechanically ventilated piglets" (Subscription required). Pediatric Critical Care Medicine 9 (1): 110–112. doi:10.1097/01.PCC.0000298639.08519.0C. PMID 18477923. Retrieved 23 March 2008. "H2S does not appear to have hypometabolic effects in ambiently cooled large mammals and conversely appears to act as a hemodynamic and metabolic stimulant." 
  9. ^ New Hibernation Technique Might Work on Humans | LiveScience at
  10. ^ Race to be first to 'hibernate' human beings - Times Online at
  11. ^ Japanese man in mystery survival at BBC News

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  • Suspended animation — Animation An i*ma tion, n. [L. animatio, fr. animare.] 1. The act of animating, or giving life or spirit; the state of being animate or alive. [1913 Webster] The animation of the same soul quickening the whole frame. Bp. Hall. [1913 Webster]… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

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