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Alaska workshop at world center of hibernation research

A researcher holds an Arctic Ground Squirrel, which hibernates with a body temperature below freezing.
Courtesy Center for Transformative Research in Metabolism
A researcher holds an Arctic Ground Squirrel, which hibernates with a body temperature below freezing.

Hibernation scientists at University of Alaska Fairbanks have invited colleagues and students from around the world to a workshop in Fairbanks. They reviewed each others’ findings indoors last week, and will head up to Toolik Lake Research Station in the Brooks Range this week for outdoor lab work.

They have already they been to a supercooling lab and done several hands-on experiments.

“It’s been pretty intense.” 

That’s Dr. Kelly Drew, she is known for her ground-breaking work in drugs and cryogenics at the Center for Transformative Research in Metabolism. She is one of the coordinators of the two-week summer school, along with Brian Barnes, and OivindToien, who is giving a lecture about bears.


About three dozen scientists and students have come to share, and hear the latest discoveries.

“They're from everywhere. We were so excited to see the international interest,” Drew said.

“They've attract quite a lot of people throughout the world right now, and it's making quite a buzz,” Neerha Lal said.

He came from Scripps Research in San Diego, where he works on understanding brain circuits in mice.

“The applications are immense what understanding hibernation can bring to medical science. I think most of the disease what we are struggling with right now, heart diseases, neurodegenerative diseases, I think answers to those will lie in these kind of research.”

Hibernation occurs across the world, so how has Fairbanks, and UAF specifically, become an international center for hibernation research? Credit the Arctic Ground Squirrel, which was discovered in 1989 to lower its body temperature to below freezing, and survive.

That discovery, by Dr. Brian Barnes, rocked Science. It also seeded subsequent research in cryogenics that could benefit emergency medicine and space travel.

Dominico Tupone is here from the University of Bologna. He’s studying thermal regulation with Dr. Kelly Drew.

“We work on hibernation and uh, I'm interested in, uh, what the animal and the species that are present here in Alaska. And I'm studying thermal regulation and the interest in hibernation is directly correlated to the study I'm doing,” Tupone said.

Matt Andrews teaches at University of Nebraska, which is using molecular biology of hibernation to develop therapies and medicines for humans.

“We’ve had success at developing a therapy for hemorrhagic shock. So, one person has profound bleeding, like in vehicular accident or a wartime injury, and they lose a lot of blood. This is a way that you can put the cells of their body into like a hibernation-like state so that you buy time to get them to the hospital,” Andrews said.

Haoran Cao is a graduate student from Yale University

“This hibernation workshop really like, um, brings together the hibernation community. So for me, as one of the newest people in the field, it's nice to actually hear from, like Brian, hear from Oivind about all their research. It's really nice to see like the whole community and how we were doing hibernation field,” Cao said.

This week the workshop heads up to UAF’s Toolik field station for lab work on Arctic animals.

Robyne began her career in public media news at KUAC, coiling cables in the TV studio and loading reel-to-reel tape machines for the radio station.