BEAR WEEK: Scientists look to unlock the mysteries of hibernation

The future of medicine might just be hibernating in a bear den in northern Minnesota.

A team of researchers at the University of Minnesota's Visible Heart Lab has been monitoring a black bear, curled up in his den for the winter months, paying close attention to information beamed back 200 miles south to Minneapolis from a small medical device implanted in the bear's chest. 

Fox 9's Randy Meier joined the researchers as they tracked down their subject in the northwoods to take physical samples, including blood samples, fat  and body weight measurements, as well as attaching a radio collar to the animal. 

The first goal of the project is to test the project's remote software, hoping one day to develop similar devices to stream data from human patients to doctors--anywhere, anytime. 

Second on the team's list is a better understanding of bears' one remarkable ability--while remaining motionless for months on end the black bear's heart rate lowers to five or six beats a minute, only burning fat while managing to avoid muscle atrophy or blood clots. 

"What's also amazing about the bears is they actually perform wound healing while they're hibernating," said Paul Iaizzo, a University of Minnesota Physiologist in the Department of Surgery. "So if you could figure out what bears are doing, hat hormones are released, what fatty acids are released, bile acids, and replicate that in a patient in the ICU and have them heal while in this recovery state--it could be pretty amazing."

It's a much different perspective on an animal that--even if we're lucky enough to see one in the wild--usually evokes a sense of fear. 

PART ONE: Researchers look to hibernating bears for advancements in human medicine

BEAR WEEK: Up close with polar bears at the Como Zoo