Drugs that switch your brain into squirrel-mode may save you from a stroke

Enlarge / Aww. Well, if the 13-lined ground squirrel doesn’t save your brain, maybe it’ll warm your heart. (credit: Phil Myers, Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan)

Stroke treatments have been a tough nut to crack. So, naturally, scientists have turned to squirrels for inspiration.

In the latest cache of data, researchers dug up a drug that can essentially flip a hibernation switch in brain cells, mimicking conditions in the noggins of dormant squirrels and potentially cushioning the blow from strokes and other cardiovascular incidents. In early tests, the drug protected cells in lab from oxygen and glucose depletion—cell-killing conditions during strokes and hibernation. The drug could also activate those protective hibernation conditions in the brains of live, non-hibernating mice.

The drug development is in its earliest phases—many, many years will have to pass before it finds its way into a clinic, if it even makes it that far (most early drug candidates don’t). But, this latest research follows years of fundamental work on making our brains act more like that of a hibernating squirrel in dire situations. And researchers are still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed about the approach.

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