Good headlines after dead?

Miraculous tales of people coming back from the dead always make good headlines. Like the story of Canadian toddler Erika Nordby, who wandered outside at night in sub-zero conditions and was later found by her mother, almost frozen solid. Despite the fact that she was pronounced &to=http:// ' target=_blank>clinically dead - her heart had stopped beating for two hours and her temperature had dropped to 16C from the normal 37C - Erika made a full recovery.

But the tales also fascinate scientists. Understanding how people can defy death has big implications for medical care: let doctors put severely ill patients in a state of, in essence, hibernation and you buy them the extra time they might need to work out the best way to treat them.

Now that goal is a step closer. By successfully inducing a state of reversible hibernation in &to=http:// ' target=_blank>mice, scientists have managed to make a mammal hibernate on demand for the very first time, tells the Guardian Unlimited.

During hibernation, cell activity nearly stops, reducing the need for oxygen. If such a suspended state could be induced in human patients, it could help doctors buy enough time to locate transplant organs for the critically ill or transport wounded soldiers to field hospitals. Inducing such a state might require only an intravenous saline solution mixed with trace amounts of an agent that interferes with the body's ability to use oxygen.

"We think this may be a latent ability that all mammals have -- potentially even humans -- and we're just harnessing it and turning it on and off, inducing a state of hibernation on demand," said Mark Roth, the lead investigator.

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