We don't really want to talk about cold weather. But last week, the good folks at Minnesota Public Radio gave us a bit of a chill when they took an inside look at the work going on in a lab at Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus that's doing innovative, and possibly life-saving, research for those who experience hypothermia.
That research is being led by Mayo's Gary Sieck, Ph.D., Research Associate Young Han, Ph.D., and Niccole Schaible, a biomedical engineering and physiology student at Mayo Graduate School. The team is using muscle cells from the heart of rats to better understand why some hypothermia patients succumb to heart failure after being warmed up, while others do not. "It's kind of a cool procedure when you actually see it contracting," Schaible tells MPR of looking at the heart muscle cells under a microscope. "You look through the microscope and actually see this thing beating."
What she and her fellow researchers are looking for under those microscopes are better clues to why some hypothermia patients survive "even after hours of exposure to extreme cold," MPR says. "We're trying to narrow down on what exactly is going wrong in the heart after cooling and rewarming," Schaible tells MPR. "And we're focusing on a very specific part of that story, the mitochondrial function." (That's just what we were thinking.)
Schaible tells MPR that this specific focus has led the team to zero in on determining exactly when the mitochondria -- structures within cells that are responsible for energy production -- are "becoming stressed." Then they can work on a strategy to stop that stress from happening in the first place. "So we're monitoring, 'Are the mitochondria becoming stressed when they're cooling? Or is it maybe during the rewarming?'" she says. "After we identify the time point, then maybe we can dig deeper into that and ask … 'What exactly is causing it to fail and what can be therapeutic interventions that could remedy that?'"
The implications could help Schaible, Drs. Sieck and Han, and the rest of the research team (which MPR notes also includes researchers from Norway's University of Tromso) better understand how patients with extreme hypothermia can be "slowly and safely revived, even if they have been declared clinically dead."
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