Survival Limits

Our work is focused on the natural means by which animals and people stave off injury and death in response to changing conditions. There are currently two areas of work in our lab: suspended animation and elemental reducing agents.

Suspended animation

Most animals require oxygen to survive. In the absence of oxygen, ATP/ADP ratios fall precipitously and the ability to maintain ion gradients essential for life is rapidly compromised. Under these conditions we have found that evolutionarily diverse animals including yeast, nematodes and fish enter into a state of suspended animation, relying on stored glycogen to meet the minimal energy requirements needed to survive until oxygen is restored. We have been defining the genetic pathways responsible glycogen storage. We are particularly interested in our recent results demonstrating genetic control over the rate of glycogen utilization—a heretofore unrecognized level of control that we found can dramatically improve survival in low oxygen environments.

Elemental Reducing Agents (ERAs)

We have discovered a new class of primordial reducing agents composed of four elements: bromine, iodine, selenium and sulfur. We found that these elements in the reduced state serve to maintain the appropriate redox state in cells and tissues under normal conditions and that they are rate limiting for survival following temporary loss of blood flow. One of them, selenide, is rapidly concentrated from the blood to reperfused tissue following restoration of blood flow such as after removal of a tourniquet or after balloon angioplasty to open a blocked artery. Another is iodide which is rapidly released from the thyroid following injury. We are currently studying the physiology of ERAs and the role they play in physiology and medicine. We are collaborating with flight surgeons working at several US military bases to test the ability of our technology to improve outcome in critical care medicine. Through a company I founded we are conducting human trials in heart attack, blunt force trauma and knee replacement.