Patriots, we're often criticized for only reporting negative news about the bushytail horde. Surely, some wonder, the drooling nutzys are of some benefit in the greater scheme of things.
Well, we find it hard to say anything positive about the maniacal skwerlballs, especially seeing as they're on a despotic quest for squirrel world domination. However, the following article from the Anchorage Daily News describes one example of skwerlien utility.
It's about North America's Arctic Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus parryii), known as "Sik-Sik" to locals (aka Tsik-Tsik).
The feature describes how the Institute of Arctic Biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks studied the skwerl's hibernation patterns looking for clues that may lead to new treatments for battlefield injuries, strokes and cancer (click Sik-Sik for comment).
We think the article speaks for itself. So here it is without editorial enhancement or comment...
SECRETS OF THE SQUIRREL
By HANNAH GUILLAUME - Scripps Howard Foundation Wire
November 7, 2006
FAIRBANKS -- Medical implications of rodents' hibernation give Fairbanks researchers something to chew on.
"The arctic ground squirrel is famous for being super-cool," Kelly Drew said.
The professor with the Institute of Arctic Biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks is among the scientists studying the way the little rodents hibernate. Researchers are looking for clues that may lead them to new treatments for battlefield injuries, strokes and cancer.
Tests show that during hibernation, ground squirrels are able to resist brain damage and injuries related to loss of blood flow and oxygen.
"The more I play with these animals, the more I find they are remarkable," Drew said. "They just don't display trauma to the brain."
Scientists said they think this is partly because squirrels' body temperatures can go below freezing without causing damage -- a rare feat for a mammal.
Drew said it's possible that a pill or an injection could allow the human body to mimic what ground squirrels do during hibernation.
Drew's research has received $2.4 million in funding, some of it from the U.S. Department of Defense. Induced hibernation might mean injured soldiers or people without ready access to medical treatment could survive with fewer long-term injuries, she said. Patients could come out of induced hibernation after major trauma without being paralyzed, for instance.
"One of the challenges with this work is that it is very new. We're still on the exploratory side of it," Drew said.
She hopes to focus on therapeutic targets next year and eventually begin clinical trials.
Doctors sometimes use drug-induced comas in patients with brain injuries. Hibernation differs from coma because it is not caused by brain malfunction or disease.
Drew said that cooling an animal or human protects the brain. Now she's trying to figure out how hibernation works.
During hibernation in nests, she said, squirrels' rate of blood flow goes down to a dramatic 10 percent of normal on average, which resembles stroke conditions.
"If we want to make some sort of impact with our work, stroke is where we want to research," Drew said.
She added that stroke damage can sometimes progress for days. "If somebody has a stroke, usually they are paralyzed on one side -- they can't talk."
Applying squirrels' on-and-off cycles of six to eight months hibernating to humans could also allow astronauts to spend extended periods in space or stop the growth of cancer cells said Brian Barnes, Institute of Arctic Biology director.
It could take 10 years to understand how ground squirrels resist brain damage during hibernation and possibly 10 more years for clinical tests on humans, he said. "But both time frames are speculative."
Drew agreed but added that it would take time and money to address the issues involved with the cancer angle, "and nobody is working on that right now."
David McMullen, a visiting postdoctoral fellow at the National Institute of Neurological Disorder and Stroke in Maryland who is also studying squirrel hibernation, also thought that studies could affect cancer research. But he hesitated to say when an understanding of hibernation might produce tangible results in any of these areas.
"If you think I'm going to tell you that we're going to come out with a pill that's going to prevent you from having a stroke, you're wrong," McMullen said. "I'm not going to do that. It's really hard to put a time frame on it."
WHY NOT TEST BEARS?
Ground squirrels are studied because they are cheaper to deal with than hibernating grizzly bears.
"Bears are a little trickier to catch," said Kelly Drew, a researcher and professor of the Institute of Arctic Biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Permits from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game allow trapping ground squirrels for research. However, Federal law prohibits their reintroduction to the wild.
The squirrels are euthanized at the end of the experiments.
SIK-SIK: THE TERROR OF THE TUNDRA
|CLICK HERE TO SEE SIK-SIK HIBERNATE (VIDEO IN WINDOWS MEDIA)|
SKWERLFOOT'S NEW MATTRESS
BBC ARCTIC GROUND SQUIRREL QUICK FACTS
NATURE WORKS ARCTIC G-SKWERL FACT PAGE
DENALI NAT'L PARK
WIKIPEDIA HIBERNATION PAGE
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