US defence researcher DARPA thinks it's possible to extend the body's 'golden hour' before death

Picture: DreamWorks

  • Tardigrades and wood frogs can stay alive while frozen.
  • DARPA hopes to find a way to slow the human biological process.
  • Chance to extend the critical ‘golden hour’ after serious injury.

It’s not quite immortality, but US defence research agency DARPA thinks it might be possible to stave off death following a serious injury.

DARPA has created the “Biostasis” program to investigate how to extend the “golden hour” — the hour following a serious injury in which the first treatment is critical in deciding whether a patient will live or die.

It says the program “will leverage molecular biology to develop new ways of controlling the speed at which living systems operate, and thus extend the window of time following a damaging event before a system collapses”.

“Essentially, the concept aims to slow life to save life.”

It’s not fantasy, either, as there are several examples of animals which rely on the process to survive.

Tardigrades — commonly known as water bears — and a species of wood frog can put themselves into a state of crytobiosis, in which they appear to have stopped all their metabolic processes.

It allows tardigrades to survive freezing, near total dehydration and extreme radiation. Wood frogs can be frozen completely solid and revived in perfect health.

Both have found a way to “selectively stabilise their intracellular machinery”.

Tardigrades will rule the Earth. Picture: Schokraie, Warnken, Hotz-Wagenblatt, Grohme, Hengherr/Wikipedia Commons

DARPA hopes to mimic that process in a way that can be used by first responders to a battlefield casualty.

“At the molecular level, life is a set of continuous biochemical reactions, and a defining characteristic of these reactions is that they need a catalyst to occur at all,” said Tristan McClure-Begley, the Biostasis program manager.

If Biostasis researchers can find a way to control those catalysts — proteins and “large molecular machines” — they hope that will enable them to “slow their roll”.

Once that process starts, “we can slow down the entire system gracefully”, McClure-Begley says.

Currently, the first priority for managing the golden hour involves moving a body from the battlefield to medical centre as quickly as possible.

That’s not always possible, and often risky in combat situations.

DARPA will hold a Proposers Day later this month for potential parties interested in working on the five-year Biostasis research program.

You can read more about it here.

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