Scientists lull mice into suspended animation with...chronic halitosis?
SUMMARY: The same gas that gives chronic halitosis its funky smell is being used to protect mice from heart attack damage - and to keep them in a state of suspended animation.
Posted: March 9, 2012
You think you've heard it all, and then a news item like this pops up: In the past few years, scientists have been using a chemical found in chronic halitosis to put lab mice into suspended animation. What's weirder is that researchers hope to use this same technique someday to prevent heart-attack-related damage.
All that from bad breath? Well, yes and no. Here's the news on halitosis, slowed life functions and lucky little mice - minus all the hot air, of course.
This whole subject first appeared in 2005, when a trio of researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle tried a bizarre experiment. Rather than freezing lab animals to suspend their heart function for a while, the team members injected them with a diluted hydrogen sulfide (H2S), the same stuff responsible for the smell of rotten eggs and chronic halitosis.
These scientists had a good reason to try this gambit. They weren't idly testing chemicals. Instead, the group was searching for a way to suspend the heart's function for a little while without resorting to freezing. The hope was that, in doing so, they could find a way to save human heart attack victims.
To simulate an infarction, researchers clamped one of a mouse's cardiac blood vessels. Then, they injected low levels of H2S into the heart itself. The results were immediately apparent and breathed new life (and halitosis) into suspended animation research.
Hearts injected with H2S restarted with minimal apparent damage. Even at a cellular level, their cardiac tissue was much better preserved than is usual with a heart attack.
How? It all has to do with what's called a "reperfusion injury." When the heart muscle is deprived of blood for a while, it begins to die. Once blood flow is restored, the sudden rush of oxygen actually causes massive oxidative damage and inflammation. It's one of the classic paradoxes of cardiac medicine, and one that may soon be solved.
However, don't go asking around for any H2S to play with. Unless it's on your breath, it's quite toxic. So rather than saving your chronic halitosis in hopes of using it to heal a heart, get rid of it by rinsing with an alcohol-free specialty rinse and a mouth-wetting lozenge or two. Leave the cardiac capers to the professionals.