Whoa, did we just figure out suspended animation?

You see and read about suspended animation all the time in science fiction. In Avatar, for instance, the movie opens with Jake Sully being brought out of a state of cryogenic suspension. It's often thought as the ticket to travel through deep space and medical miracles here at home, and one scientist could be close to cracking the code.

The big problem has always been that freezing is fatal for humans. You can't just put someone on ice and then thaw them out later. Yet Dr. Mark Roth, a researcher in a cancer lab in Seattle, has always been fascinated by instances in nature where humans have survived deep freezes.

Just Google Canadian toddler Erica Nordby who ventured out into a wintry day and survived after her body temperature dropped to 60° and her heart stopped for two hours. (60° may not sound like cause for alarm, but if your body temperature gets that low it's usually fatal.)

Ross and his team believe that the key lies in the amount of oxygen someone has before getting frozen. Deprived of it, things seem to go a lot smoother. Right now, Ross has been conducting his tests not on humans, but on yeast and nematode worms.

"We wondered if what was happening with the organisms in my laboratory was also happening in people like the toddler… Before they got cold did they somehow manage to decrease their oxygen consumption?" says Roth. "Is that what protected them? Our work in nematodes and yeast suggests that this may be the case, and it may bring us a step closer to understanding what happens to people who appear to freeze to death but can be reanimated."

Even if a lack of oxygen is the ticket, we probably won't be able to freeze someone for a trip to distant planets. Instead, the technology could be used to, say, freeze someone in critical condition on the way to a hospital, giving the patient a better chance on the way to the hospital.

Via The Register