How Hibernating Bears Can Help Humans

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In a recent study, scientists took a close look at the habits of hibernating bears to see what information they could gather. The bears used in the experiments were "deemed a nuisance" in Alaska after they began to wander too close to the surrounding population. By having these bears in such a controlled environment scientists were really able to get an up close and personal look at many of the hibernation habits of the species.


One of the first things that the article mentions that the scientists noticed was that even thought the body temperature of the bears only drops a small amount during hibernation they are able to slow their metabolic activity "to about 25 percent of their normal, active rate." Keeping them from burning through the resources their body needs during the hibernation period. It was also noted that whenever the bear's body temperature dropped below 86 degrees that the bears "shivered" their bodies in order to heat up and maintain a stable temperature during hibernation.


Now I'm sure you're wondering what this means for you, other than the fact that it makes you jealous that a bear gets to eat and sleep through the coldest months of the year without being uncomfortable. Well Craig Heller, a biologist at Stanford University and one of the members on the research team has a very real world application for this research.


Patients who experience strokes can potentially benefit immensely from the lowered brain temperature and function that the bears are able to achieve during their deep slumber. In the hours after suffering a stroke Dr. Heller says that the lowered brain temperature can help in the treatment for these unlucky victims. "You can't just pack someone in ice, because the body will fight to stay at a normal temperature,"..."If you can figure out how bears and other animals do it, you could possibly induce this [in humans]."


So in the future these bears that 'wandered' too close to the human population in Alaska may prove to be a vital part in the treatment of stroke victims across the globe. And hey, if they can figure out how to induce 'hibernation' in humans then I wouldn't mind a nice long nap from October to March in order to miss all that cold weather, just as long as somebody wakes me up for Christmas!

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After reading this I was curious- why does cooling the body help stroke patients? What does it do to the brain that lessens the damage of a stroke? I found an article on ABC's website that explained this a little. Check it out- we don't yet know WHY it is effective but in trials it appears to work! Likewise this could potentially answer a question that was asked by Andrew in class- Does icing a swollen body part really help the injury or just make it feel better for us? If doctors could prove that cooling the brain definitely helps stroke victims, then it would make sense that we could find evidence that cooling other parts of the body really does help!

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