“Researchers have induced hibernation in a non-hibernating species (rats) with ultrasound, indicating the potential to do the same in humans with applications for medical trauma and spaceflight,” writes longtime Slashdot reader Baron_Yam. The research has been published in the journal Nature Metabolism. From a report: “Ultrasound is the only available energy form that can noninvasively focus on any location within the brain with high precision and without ionizing radiation,” Hong Chen, a medical ultrasound researcher at Washington University in St. Louis and co-author of the paper, told The Daily Beast in an email. “We were curious whether ultrasound could noninvasively turn on the switch to induce the torpor-like state”
Torpor is a state in which mammals reduce their metabolism and body temperature, and essentially slows down their entire system in order to conserve as much energy as possible. The authors write that the state is controlled by the central nervous system. So the idea goes that targeting the hypothalamus, which controls the nervous system, could potentially induce hibernation. It should be noted that while mice enter such a state during periods of extreme cold, rats do not. The team developed an ultrasound emitter and mounted them on the heads of mice. They then triggered 10-second pulses of ultrasound on the hypothalamus, which caused an immediate drop in the creatures’ body temperature by an average of 6 degrees Fahrenheit, heart rate, and oxygen consumption. The team was also able to automate their device so it would blast the mices’ brains with ultrasound whenever their body temperature rose, allowing them to safely maintain the torpor-like state for up to 24 hours. Within two hours after the experiment, the animals were able to fully recover.
The study’s authors were also able to replicate the experiment in rats — another creature that doesn’t hibernate — for up to 12 hours and found similar results. However, the rats’ body temperature dropped by an average 2 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit instead of 6, which is partly due to the fact that they don’t naturally hibernate. However, it does show that they can entire a torpor-like state with the right technique. Of course, further research is needed to determine whether it’s effective on humans. Chen added that the team hopes to eventually move the technique to human trials. They might be able to prove that blasting ultrasound on the brain is a great way to get us to rest like the bears do.