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Hutchinson Center researchers first to induce state of suspended animation in model vertebrate organism

Last February, a toddler in Alberta, Canada, made headlines worldwide after she wandered outside and nearly froze to death. Although her heart stopped beating for two hours and her body temperature was 61 degrees when she was found lying face down in the snow, 14-month-old Erika Nordby made a complete, stunning recovery.

While such recovery from biological limbo seemingly defies scientific or medical explanation, researchers at Seattle's Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center have developed a method to induce a similar state of so-called suspended animation in the zebrafish, a relatively new model of vertebrate developmental biology.

Their work, the first demonstration of this phenomenon in a vertebrate model organism highly suitable to laboratory analysis, will be described tomorrow in the June 12 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Early Edition No. 24).

This discovery, by Mark Roth, Ph.D., a member of the Hutchinson Center's Basic Sciences Division, promises to open new paths of research into understanding the phenomenon of suspended animation. The achievement ultimately could lead to new ways to treat cancer and prevent ischemic injury from insufficient blood supply to organs and tissues.

Roth, in collaboration with postdoctoral research fellow Pam Padilla, Ph.D., discovered that after 24 hours of oxygen deprivation - resulting in cessation of all observable metabolic activity, including heartbeat - zebrafish embryos can resume a normal course of development with no harmful effects on their health or growth.

Roth's studies on biological limbo may shed light on two problems that perplex cancer biologists: the control of stem-cell division and how oxygen deprivation affects tumor growth.

"We typically think of cancer cells as growing out of control," said Roth, also an affiliate associate professor of biochemistry at the University of Washington School of Medicine. "But actually, within a tumor there are many type
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Contact: Kristen Woodward
kwoodwar@fhcrc.org
206-667-5095
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
10-Jun-2001


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