It’s pretty much like what cryogenic engineer Victor Fries, also known as ‘Mr. Freeze’, tried to do to save his wife, Nora, in the TV series “Gotham”. He was trying to figure out a way to freeze his wife so he could find a cure for her terminal illness.
That’s supposed to be science fiction. And yet it’s exactly what physicist Marco Durante of the Trento Institute for Fundamental Physics in Italy is proposing. His revolutionary idea — which he presented during the recently held American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Boston — stemmed from years of research on hibernating animals (like bears), and stories about people who survived even after being plunged into deep sleep. (And maybe Mr. Freeze’s endeavors?)
Supposedly, while in a state of hibernation — a form of cold temperature deep sleep — all body functions including breathing, blood circulation, heart rate, metabolism and the like slow down. Right down to the molecular level, even gene activity and protein synthesis slacken to the point of completely stopping. Theoretically, this should mean that tumor growth will also slow down or even cease altogether, giving doctors the time needed to destroy the cancer cells.
If it can be done, it will be an infinitely better way to treat this deadly disease which affects millions of people every year.
As it is, nearly 50% of cancer patients are diagnosed when they’re already in the advanced stage. At this point, their tumors become too widespread — referred to as multiple metastasis — that it is nearly impossible to treat the cancer. It can’t be done with surgery. Neither can radiotherapy be used on all affected body parts because doing so will only result in killing the patient faster given the fact that even healthy cells get destroyed by the radiation. “But if you could put the patient into synthetic torpor you could stop the cancer growing. It gives you more time,” says Dr. Durante.
After putting a patient to sleep, his/her body temperature will be lowered to 13°Celsius – 15°Celsius (based on some news reports, people have been known to survive this temperature range). He/she will then be kept in that state for at least a week, during which the doctors will give all the treatments needed to rid the patient of his/her cancer.
While it is not yet possible to safely induce controlled hibernation in humans, Dr. Durante believes that this might change in 10 years. Especially now that they know how hibernation works (through studies done on rats which were induced into synthetic torpor), he is confident that development of drugs that can induce safe torpor in humans is achievable. But it will definitely involve more extensive research and lots and lots of careful experimentation before the approach can be tested on humans.