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March 14, 2007

The Glove

When Allah says it's the Quote of the Day and then adds "Awesome," I guess I should listen.

This reads like every superhero story you've ever read.

Mark Roth never expected his research to have military applications. He was a biochemist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, studying how chromosomes move during cell replication. Then, about a decade ago, his second daughter, Hannah Grace, died of heart failure at the age of 1. Her death sent him down a much stranger path. “I became interested in immortality,” he says.

Roth knew that some animals hibernate — slowing their metabolisms until environmental conditions improve. He also knew that some cells can enter a kind of dormancy and then spring back to life — essentially, they go into suspended animation. Roth wanted to better understand this “metabolic flexibility.” He started testing various chemicals that slowed metabolism, like heavy water and tetrodotoxin (puffer fish poison, used in Haiti to turn people into zombies). Nothing worked. But then Roth found a loophole in one of nature’s seemingly absolute rules: Animals need oxygen. But some creatures, like nematodes, fruit flies, and zebra fish, don’t die if oxygen levels drop. Instead the critters suspend. Their hearts stop beating for up to 24 hours. They don’t breathe. And they don’t die. Wounds stop bleeding; nearly any injury becomes survivable, and the brain shuts down without damage. “If you were shot, this is exactly what you would want,” Roth says.

It’s a timing issue: At oxygen concentrations below some critical level, animals kick off. But take the oxygen level even lower than that, fast, and they don’t. The problem was, Roth couldn’t figure out how to pull off his oxygen reduction trick in mammals, let alone humans. What would a battlefield medic do? Tie a plastic bag over a wounded soldier’s head?

A television show gave Roth the clue he needed. In October 2002, he was watching a PBS show about caving in Mexico. The host had to don a breathing mask because the cavern’s air was full of hydrogen sulfide, which binds to mitochondria and impedes the body’s ability to use oxygen. “Oh my gosh,” Roth thought. “We can de-animate people.”

Three weeks later, Roth was at a meeting at the Breckenridge Ski Resort in Colorado, organized by DSO’s Bielitzki, the ex-NASA veterinarian. The agency was looking for ways to extend the “golden hour,” the period of time within which massive-trauma victims need to get medical care. Bielitzki thought Roth had the best shot, and was prepared to fund further research.

But before the program could start, DSO’s performance-enhancement push ran into trouble in Washington. The President’s Council on Bioethics was publishing reports decrying body hacks. Some in Congress worried about being accused of funding a Frankenstein army.

In response to those critics, the agency already predisposed to clandestine research — decided to go underground. Program names were changed to dull their mad-scientist edge. Metabolic Dominance became Peak Soldier Performance. Augmented Cognition became Improving Warfighter Information Intake Under Stress. Researchers were told to keep their mouths shut; many current and former program managers still won’t talk on the record, requesting anonymity for this story. The Surviving Blood Loss program, meant to fund Roth’s work, was itself put into suspended animation.

That's the part of the research that will save lives. Anoter DARPA Project -- "The Glove" -- will build super-soldiers so fewer lives need to be saved at all:

Grahn and his research partner, biologist Craig Heller, started working on the Glove at Stanford in the late 1990s as part of their research on improving physical performance. Even they were astounded at how well it seemed to work. Vinh Cao, their squat, barrel-chested lab technician, used to do almost 100 pull-ups every time he worked out. Then one day he cooled himself off between sets with an early prototype. The next round of pull-ups — his 11th — was as strong as his first. Within six weeks, Cao was doing 180 pull-ups a session. Six weeks after that, he went from 180 to more than 600. Soon, Stanford’s football trainers asked to borrow a few Gloves to cool down players in the weight room and to fight muscle cramps.

...

In trying to figure out why the Glove worked so well, its inventors ended up challenging conventional scientific wisdom on fatigue. Muscles don’t wear out because they use up stored sugars, the researchers said. Instead, muscles tire because they get too hot, and sweating is just a backup cooling system for the lattices of blood vessels in the hands and feet. The Glove, in other words, overclocks the heat exchange system. “It’s like giving a Honda the radiator of a Mack truck,” Heller says. After four months of using it himself, Heller did 1,000 push-ups on his 60th birthday in April 2003. Soon after, troops from Special Operations Command were trying out the Glove, too.

So one guy is researching how to put you into suspended animation like Captain America, and another guys is working on giving you his strength and endurance, too.

Definitely worth reading. Damn, that Noah Schactman reports on some cool shit.

Of course, I already had this idea like ten years ago. I called it "The Cock-Bottle," but it was the same basic principle.


Correction: I was confused by the ice-bath thing. MBurris tells me the Glove and the de-animation research are two separate lines of research, completely unconnected.

I thought the Glove was being used as part of the de-animation. I may be wrong. I've emailed Noah Schactman to get an answer.

Answer From Noah: Unconnected, though he's nice enough to say they're "connected" in the sense they're both part of the same human-potential research.

The glove / ice bath and Roth's zombie rodents *are* connected, but they're not part of the same experiment. They're both part of much, much larger push by Darpa's Defense Sciences Office into augmented human performance. Dozens and dozens of university, industry, and military researchers have been funded under this family of programs.

You can check out a rundown of those efforts here;
Roth is under "Surviving Blood Loss"; the glove is under "Peak Soldier
Performance."

I've got a ton more on these projects here.


And coming tomorrow, I'll have a story on some of the neurotech works
that's being done at DSO, too.

I've re-written the post to correct my error, but I've kept the correction part so as to not hide the fact I made it.


digg this
posted by Ace at 02:31 PM

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