Is Hibernating The Key To Treating Dementia?

Suzanne Robertson
Hibernating bears, hedgehogs and mice destroy brain connections. These repair as they wake up. Could this work for humans?

Bears, hedgehogs and mice destroy brain connections as they enter hibernation.  As they wake up, those connections are repaired. 

A UK research team applied this process and discovered "cold-shock chemicals" prevent brain cells dying in animals. Scientists are hoping that memory restoration in humans can be possible. 

Having a loved one suffer from dementia can be tragic and costly. Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life.  Symptoms include memory, communication and language loss. 

In the early stages of neurodegenerative disorders, synapses are lost that leads to whole brain cells dying.

However, researchers discovered that during hibernation, 20-30% of the connections in the brain - synapses - are killed off as the body preserves precious resources over winter.  Astonishingly, those lost connections are reformed in the spring, with no loss of memory.

Prof Giovanna Mallucci, from the MRC Toxicology Unit in Leicester, told the BBC News website: "This gives us a target to develop a drug in the same way paracetamol is used for a fever rather than a cold bath."

Dr Doug Brown, the director of research and development at the Alzheimer's Society said: "While we don't think body cooling is a feasible treatment for long-term, progressive conditions like Alzheimer's disease, this research opens up the possibility of finding drugs that can have the same effect. We are very much looking forward to seeing this research taken forward to the next stage."

Dr Eric Karran, the director of research at Alzheimer's Research UK, said the study was "promising" and "highlights a natural process nerve cells use to protect themselves".

He added that "a future treatment able to bolster nerve cells against damage could have wide-reaching benefits".