Healing in Hibernating Bears May Hold Clues for Human Injury Recovery


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How HIT and UDCA May Help Humans

Further work is needed to determine what role each component plays in the healing process and whether HIT and UDCA work independently, cooperatively or synergistically. What scientists already know is that delta opioid agonists, like HIT, have cardio-protective and wound healing properties in addition to their sedative and analgesic value.

Other non-delta opioid agonists, such as morphine, do not have the same wound healing or cardio-protective value. Using delta opioid agonists in Intensive Care Units would improve healing in many cases – they are also being used in treating heart disease, and to preserve transplant organs for longer periods of time, according to Dr. Iazzo.

Bear bile, from which UDCA is derived, has been used for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine for wound healing, pain management and fever reduction. Synthetic UDCA is now available, and the medical community is beginning to explore its value as both a topical wound treatment and an oral medication. There has also been extensive additional research in this area, looking at the potential for UDCA to aid in treating Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s diseases, heart disease, and others.

Studying Bears Results in Medical Advances

The chemical structure of ursodeoxycholic acid: Image by Calvero

The bears in this study are part of a long term research and management program in Minnesota. Taking an interesting observation during routine examinations, the unexpected healing in hibernating bears, the multidisciplinary team was able to use the information to improve wound treatment for humans. More importantly, other uses for UDCA and HIT like products are already being investigated.


Iaizzo, P.A., et al. Wound healing during hibernation by black bears (Ursus americanus) in the wild: elicitation of reduced scar formation. (2012). Integrative Zoology. 7:48–60. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-4877.2011.00280.x. Accessed April 24, 2012.

Miragoli, M., et al. A protective anti-arrhythmic role of ursodeoxycholic acid in an in-vitro rat model of the cholestatic fetal heart. (2011). Hepatology. Accessed April 24, 2012.

University of Minnesota. Visible Heart Lab. Accessed April 24, 2012.

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