What do hibernating bears have to do with pulmonary health? Well just listen up to how findings in hibernating bears may lead to some improvements in medical care.

We know that patients that have been placed at bedrest following surgery or a short term illness are at risk of developing blood clots especially in their legs. Their immobility and the clots that occur may result in pulmonary emboli where the clots which usually form in the legs break off and travel to the lungs sometimes with devastating consequences. Oddly enough, patients who are chronically immobilized after a spinal cord injury or stroke do not have the same heightened risk of a clot after the early phase of their condition.

To investigate what the protective mechanism is for these patients, scientists studied hibernating bears. A key factor may be a protein that is found on the surface of tiny blood cells called platelets (which in part control clotting) which can be regulated not just in bears but people and pigs. Bears spend 4-7 months in hibernation every year but despite these long stretches of inactivity there is no evidence of clot formation.

The benefit to some patients seems obvious. Many acutely immobilized patients cannot have their clotting controlled well with current medications or these medications may be contraindicated because of their specific illness. Blocking the effect of certain proteins on platelets may be a way of safely reducing the risk of clot formation in the early immobilization phase for some patients.