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Could human life be put on hold?

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Suspended animation a reality
  • Mark Roth is a scientist who is studying ways to put life into suspended animation
  • In a TED Talk, he describes how his lab has put some organisms into a suspended state
  • The animals are revived and appear to suffer no lasting damage, he says
  • Such techniques may one day keep people from dying so they can get urgent care, he says

Editor's note: TED Talks such as the video above appear Tuesdays on through a partnership with TED, a nonprofit organization devoted to "Ideas Worth Spreading." It hosts talks on many subjects at its conferences and makes them available through its Web site,

(CNN) -- "Usually when I mention suspended animation people will flash me the Vulcan sign and laugh," says scientist Mark Roth. But he's not referring to the plot of a "Star Trek" episode.

Roth is completely serious about using lessons he's learned from putting some organisms into suspended animation to help people survive medical trauma. He spoke at the TED2010 conference in Long Beach, California, in February.

The winner of a MacArthur genius fellowship in 2007, Roth described the thought process that led him and fellow researchers to explore ways to lower animals' metabolism to the point where they showed no signs of life -- and yet were not dead. More remarkably, they were able to restore the animals to normal life, with no apparent damage.

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The Web site of Roth's laboratory at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, describes the research this way: "We use the term suspended animation to refer to a state where all observable life processes (using high resolution light microscopy) are stopped: The animals do not move nor breathe and the heart does not beat. We have found that we are able to put a number of animals (yeast, nematodes, drosophila, frogs and zebrafish) into a state of suspended animation for up to 24 hours through one basic technique: reducing the concentration of oxygen."

Visit Mark Roth's laboratory

Roth is investigating the use of small amounts of hydrogen sulfide, a gas that is toxic in larger quantities, to lower metabolism. In his talk, he imagined that "in the not too distant future, an EMT might give an injection of hydrogen sulfide, or some related compound, to a person suffering severe injuries, and that person might de-animate a bit ... their metabolism will fall as though you were dimming a switch on a lamp at home.

"That will buy them the time to be transported to the hospital to get the care they need. And then, after they get that care ... they'll wake up. A miracle? We hope not, or maybe we just hope to make miracles a little more common."