U of M Researches Connection Between Black Bears and Heart Health in Humans

Updated: 01/07/2014 10:36 PM KSTP.com By: Jessica Miles

Could black bears really help humans when it comes to heart health?

University of Minnesota researcher Paul Iaizzo says during hibernation, black bears heart rates increase significantly when they breath in, but drop down to just a couple breaths per minute as they exhale.

That technique helps them save energy and avoid losing muscle mass during hibernation. "If we can really understand how these animals go into these dens for 6 months and not eat, drink, urinate, or defecate, but not lose any cardiac mass, or muscle mass, it could really be applied to a patient in the ICU," says Professor Iaizzo.

Iaizzo has been researching black bears for 15 years, studying data collected from devices implanted in bears and visiting dens himself.

He says some critically ill patients can lose 50 percent of their muscle mass in two to three weeks. Often times, those patients then end up on ventilators. He says half of patients in the Intensive Care Unit who end up on ventilators, rarely get off of them.

He says if researchers can take some of the hormones or other agents bears naturally release while in hibernation, and give them to humans to see if it can minimize their loss of muscle, either skeletal or heart, that would be a huge benefit in the medical world.

To see more of Professor Iaizzo's research, click here.