Hibernation Holds Secrets for Our Health

February 12, 2015
A researcher holds a baby black bear

As days shorten and winter sets in, University of Minnesota professor Paul Iaizzo makes the first of his annual treks to northern Minnesota to visit black bears in their dens. Iaizzo and his team are seeking to understand not just the mysteries of hibernation, but also how that knowledge could help humans.

Consider the implications: a sedentary lifestyle in humans can be detrimental to our health, but hibernating bears—despite lying virtually motionless for at least five months every winter—emerge from their dens healthy in the spring.

Working through his renowned Visible Heart Lab in partnership with Medtronic and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Iaizzo has already learned a lot about hibernation.

The research may one day lead to new treatments for blood clots, heart failure, obesity, osteoporosis, and atrophied muscles.

"Our biggest hope," says Iaizzo, "is that we'll be able to use components of hibernation induction triggers in human patients to enhance the viability of the affected tissues or, even better, preserve organs for transplant surgery."

And so, while bears hibernate, great researchers never rest.