Real life examples of Biostasis can be found all around us in nature.
While we now know that we are able to put people into Biostasis through cryopreservation, we first learned about the concept from observing nature.
Some animals' bodies cope with extreme environmental changes without having to consciously adapt. Understanding how they achieve this and replicating it in humans could open up a world of possibilities.
So what examples of Biostasis do we already know about in nature, and how can we use them?
Alaskan wood frogs can survive up to seven months entirely frozen before thawing out again. Two thirds of the water in their body freezes, they become completely rigid and their heart stops beating. But they don’t die.
When winter begins, ice quickly fills the wood frog’s chest and encases all internal organs. Ice crystals form between layers of its skin and muscle. Simultaneously, the frog’s liver produces large amounts of glucose that makes its way into every cell in the body.
This is the key component in allowing survival for the frog. The glucose prevents cells from freezing and binds water molecules inside cells to prevent dehydration by osmosis.
Then the frog remains entirely dormant and frozen until spring comes around again, when miraculously it thaws out. How the frog is able to restart its circulatory system is unknown. It is able to withstand conditions that would be fatal to nearly all other animals.
For long periods of Biostasis to be possible, some animals use Torpor. This is where the metabolic rate and body temperature of an animal is naturally decreased. This process is used by animals who go into hibernation or aestivation. However, some animals are able to partially use this technique without fully hibernating. This is an important way of conserving energy at any time of the year.
Torpor allows for prolonged periods of inactivity where animals are unaffected by their surroundings. An example of this is hibernation, which occurs during winter months. Lemurs, hedgehogs, certain frogs, skunks, bumblebees and, famously, groundhogs all hibernate.
Aestivation is a similar, but converse, process that occurs in animals that must survive hot arid summer months. It is most commonly found in some snakes, frogs, lizards and turtles. Animals are able to remain in a suspended animation to avoid heat damage to their bodies when temperatures rise.
Following a skiing accident, Anna Bågenholm was submerged beneath a frozen lake in Sweden for 80 minutes! She managed to find a pocket of air under the ice and remain conscious for 40 minutes before circulatory arrest.
Once Anna was able to be pulled from under the thick ice, she was rushed to hospital. Her body temperature was recorded at 13.7°C, the lowest ever observed in accidental hypothermia.
It was noted that upon arrival at the hospital, she was completely white, her eyes were dilated and she showed all the signs of being dead. The electrocardiogram (ECG) showed a consistent flat line. But the doctor knew that she had to be warmed first before death could be declared.
Gradually, her blood was warmed outside her body, before being pumped back in, to avoid damaging her circulatory system. It took several hours but, eventually, her heart started to beat again and her body temperature returned to normal.
She eventually made a complete recovery, showing that humans can endure extreme conditions. The difficulty comes in achieving this in a safer manner.
Understanding the ways in which animals are able to remain unaffected by the passing of time would be extremely advantageous to humans. It would also allow us to suspend people who were untreatable, thus extending “the Golden Hour”.
Biostasis in humans has the potential to save lives. If we were able to harness a prolonged period before serious injuries became fatal, then we would save countless lives. Cryopreservation gives us the chance to enter Biostasis once we have died today with the hope of treatment in the future.
Once in this state, the processes that occur after death are completely halted. It prevents further cell degradation so we can remain unaffected by the passing of time. Nevertheless, revival from this state is not yet possible.
But, we are able to remain in Biostasis until such a time that it is possible. By that point we will understand Biostasis in animals and use it for our own benefits. Once reanimation is possible, we would reawaken from our slumber in the future, like a groundhog at the start of spring.
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