Could a hibernation-like state help with cancer treatment?
Cancer could be tackled more effectively by putting patients into a torpor state similar to that of a hibernating bear.
Tumour growth would slow right down or cease while healthy cells in the body become more resistant to radiation, says physicist Marco Durante, from the Trento Institute in Italy. The radical idea follows years of research on hibernating animals, and anecdotal reports of people who have been plunged into deep freeze and survived.
During hibernation, a form of cold temperature deep sleep, body functions such as heart and respiration rate, metabolism and oxygen uptake all slow down. At the molecular level, too, gene activity and protein synthesis are reduced to a crawling pace.
All these effects could have big implications for cancer treatment, said Durante at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Boston on February 19th.
“If you can do it, you can take (advanced) cancers that are fourth stage,” he said.
“Around 50 per cent of cancer patients have advanced cancer, so it is a large number. We all have known someone affected this way. And there is nothing that we can do with them. They have multiple metastasis (spreading tumours) in the body.
“You cannot treat all the metastasis – you cannot use surgery to 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,” he said. “But if you could put the patient into synthetic torpor you could stop the cancer growing. It gives you more time.”
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