Saturday 22 July 2017

How hibernation could help cure deadly cancers

The radical idea follows years of research on hibernating animals, and anecdotal reports of people who have been plunged into deep freeze and survived. Photo: PA
The radical idea follows years of research on hibernating animals, and anecdotal reports of people who have been plunged into deep freeze and survived. Photo: PA

John von Radowitz

Cancer could be tackled more effectively by putting patients into a torpor state similar to that of a hibernating bear, a leading scientist has claimed.

Tumour growth would slow right down or cease while healthy cells in the body become more resistant to radiation, says physicist Professor Marco Durante, from Trento Institute, Italy.

As a result larger doses of cancer-killing radiotherapy could be administered in safety.

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 slow down, while gene activity and protein synthesis reduce to a crawling pace.

All these effects could have big implications for cancer treatment, Prof Durante, a highly respected expert in radiobiology believes.

"If you can do it, you can take (advanced) cancers that are fourth stage," he said.

"Around 50pc of cancer patients have advanced cancer, and there is nothing that we can do with them. They have multiple metastases (spreading tumours) in the body.

"You cannot treat all the metastasis - you cannot use surgery to everywhere 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 you could stop the cancer growing. You also increase radio-resistance. So you can treat all the different metastases without killing the patient. You wake up the patients and they are cured - that is our ambition."

Currently it is not possible to hibernate a human in a safe and controlled way, but such a goal could be achieved within 10 years, Prof Durante believes. Synthetic torpor has been induced in rats by manipulating a specific part of the brain, he said.

He added: "We are aiming for at least one week. It gives us time to deliver all the treatments that are needed to make the person cancer-free."

Irish Independent

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