Zombies are an immensely popular horror movie mainstay. Nay, they’re a horror movie institution, a genre all to themselves. They’re not complex characters but they really don’t have to be. Zombies are pure hunger in an eerily familiar yet hideously warped form. They don’t want world conquest or secret codes to bank vaults. They just want to feast on your innards before moving on to their next victim, driven only by bloodlust. So after entire decades of watching the undead in our popular culture, one would think that any story mentioning military and anything even remotely related to cheating death spells trouble just waiting to happen as the grusome zombie outbreaks engulf secret army labs and spread like a scourge across the planet in true horror movie style.
Scared yet? Well if you are, you’ll be happy to know that despite Danger Room’s post about Pentagon’s eerie research into “zombie pigs,” the project itself has nothing to do with the undead. Instead, DARPA is exploring different methods of suspended animation by trying to unlock our evolutionary potential for hibernation to save lives on the battlefield and give wounded soldiers extra time to get treatment…
[The] military’s mad-science arm DARPA has awarded $9.9 million to the Texas A&M Institute for Preclinical Studies (TIPS), to develop treatments that can extend a “golden period” when injured war fighters have the best chance of coming back from massive blood loss. [...]
The institute’s research will be based on previous Darpa-funded efforts. One project, at Stanford University, hypothesized that humans could one day mimic the hibernation abilities of squirrels – who emerge from winter months no worse for wear – using a pancreatic enzyme that we have in common with the critters.
The other, led by Dr. Mark Roth at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, used nematode worms and rats to test how hydrogen sulfide could block the body’s ability to use oxygen – creating a kind of “suspended animation” where hearts stop beating and wounds don’t bleed. [...] The next logical step: Try the same thing on pigs. They’ve got a similar cardiovascular system to humans, and TIPS researchers think they can accurately predict human results from the swine trials.
Here’s where we should note that at no point is the subject dead. Heartbeat, respiration and brain function are down to their minimum, but whoever has been put into suspended animation is still very much alive and while the body is hibernating, the effects of trauma and shock should be reduced just long enough to give a medical team more time to do whatever can be done to stabilize their patient. Sorry doomsday aficionados, but it looks like there won’t be a zombie apocalypse triggered by an out of control military experiment. At least not yet…
[ illustration from the video game Dead Space ]