Sleeping is a great way to get over a cold or the flu. But if humans had the ability to hibernate, we might suffer fewer such insults in the first place.

The tradeoff, of course, would be losing a few months of your life each year. But there may be a way to gain the immune benefits of hibernation without such losses.

This year, researchers from the Russian Academy of Sciences discovered that if they transplant thymus cells from Alaskan ground squirrels into the eyes of rats, the aging of their thymus significantly slows and the number of active cells in their lymphoid tissue increases by 55%.

The thymus is a tiny organ located near our breastbone that is present in all mammals. It is the major site for T lymphocyte differentiation and immune response. In humans, the thymus is most active during puberty, but as we age it shrinks and loses functionality, leading to immune system decline and increased susceptibility to colds, flu and other ailments.

But the thymus doesn’t degenerate in all mammals. Hibernating animals such as the Alaskan ground squirrel are able to renew the lymphoid tissue of their thymus as they sleep every winter.

And that’s just one reason why the organ is attracting attention from researchers interested in slowing or reversing its age-related decline.

More here.