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Thursday Complexity Post
March 6, 2014

Learning from Sleeping Bears


While bears hibernate through bitter cold winters, they don't eat, drink, or excrete, their kidneys shut down, their heart rate falls to a few beats a minute, their oxygen intake and blood flow plunge, and because they're living off their own mighty stores of fat, their cholesterol skyrockets. And when they wake up they're fine. They're not suffering from diabetes, hardening of the arteries or gall stones, and they haven't lost muscle or bone density.


Scientists think the mysteries of bear hibernation may have much to teach us about human health issues ranging from obesity to kidney disease to organ preservation and long distance space travel.


Kevin Corbit, a senior scientist at the biotechnology company Amgen calls hibernation by black bears and grizzly bears an "astonishing feat of evolution." In a New York Times story he explains that when bears halt their renal functions during hibernation, the result is badly scarred kidneys and levels of blood toxin that would kill a human. Yet full function is restored when the bear wakes, and scientists find no lasting damage. Before hibernation, bears eat and drink prodigiously and quickly gain the weight and fat they'll need for their long sleep, which can last up to seven months. During hibernation, Corbit writes, bears become insulin resistant, making them in effect diabetic. Unlike diabetic humans, however, they maintain normal blood sugar levels. And again, when they wake up, their insulin responsiveness is restored.


At the top seasonal weight, male black bears can weigh up to 900 pounds and females can weigh up to 500 pounds.They may lose up to 30 percent of their body weight during hibernation. See a Nova report and a National Park Service piece on bear hibernation.


"Bears naturally and reversibly succumb to diabetes," Corbit writes. "Since we know when they make this switch, we hope to pinpoint how they do this."


The bears scientists have studied don't handle fat the same way humans do. It doesn't cause tissue inflammation in bears, and Corbit writes that bears store their excess winter weight harmlessly in fat tissue, rather in the liver and muscles as humans do. Corbit's research on bears, supported by his company, is focused on finding innovations in treating obesity. Hibernation itself is an adaptation to seasonal food shortages, extreme cold and snow. Millions of years of evolution has produced genetic adaptations that make fluctuating weight and obesity benign for bears. Corbit figures maybe scientists can figure out how to do that for humans.


A Science article by Sara Reardon says the mysteries of bear metabolism during hibernation could give doctors the ability to slow down the metabolism of accident victims, thereby extending the time when treatment is most effective. Findings could also help extend the preservation of organs for donation. Understanding how bear brains continue to function with low oxygen, and the mechanisms by which sleeping bears conserve their muscle and bone mass during months of inactivity could be useful in managing long term space travel.




A new book, The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures: Simple Rules to Unleash a Culture of Innovation, by Keith McCandless and Henri Lipmanowicz describes novel, practical and engaging ways to foster increased productivity, collaboration and creativity in any group of any size. These processes are surprisingly easy to learn. Discover today what Liberating Structures can do for you, without expensive investments, complicated training, or difficult restructuring. Liberate everyone's contributions -- all it takes is the determination to experiment. Get the book and save the date for a Plexus Institute Liberating Structures workshop with the authors on May 29-30, 2014 in Washington, DC.  



Remember PlexusCalls!



Friday, March 14, 2014- 1-2 PM ET

The Emergence of African Rural University 
Guests: Patricia Seybold and Carol Gorelick



African Rural University in Uganda is a unique educational institution designed collaboratively by faculty, students, and the people ARU graduates will serve. It's an all women's university, and offers an innovative course in rural transformation, combining science and the humanities to serve the needs and aspirations of communities. ARU emphasizes community, entrepreneurship, creating social capital, sustainable development, and visionary leadership.


Patricia Seybold is an author and consultant with expertise in assessing how evolving technologies impact businesses and their customers. Her clients have included Amazon, GE, Fidelity, Cisco, Symantec, Citigroup, American Cancer Society, American Institute of Physics, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and many others. (See more about Patricia Seybold Group clients.) She is president of Boothbay Region Health & Wellness Foundation, a nonprofit committed to improving the health of Boothbay, Maine peninsula, where she lives, and CEO of the Patricia Seybold Group. Her books include Outside Innovation, The Customer Revolution,, which became an internet business classic. She has been on the board of the African rural University for eight years and wrote The Evolution of African Rural University. Visit her blog.  


Carol Gorelick is a facilitative leader of systemic change. As co-founder and Executive Director of ABC Connects, she is working in the U.S. and South Africa to develop school-community partnerships. She has worked in global companies, led a consultancy and NGO, and taught at Pace University and the University of Cape Town. ABC Connects is developing partnerships among education, families, corporations, government, not-for-profit organizations and academe. A $400,000 Kellogg grant provided initial funding for an action research pilot in South Africa and Detroit: Building Stronger Communities: Strengthening Schools. Carol is leveraging the ABC Connects pilot through a Society for Organizational Learning project: Connecting Pathways: Educating for the 21st Century. This initiative uses a community engagement framework to develop skills, talent and network competencies that people will need in the digital and innovation economy. Carol's publications include "It Takes a Village to Raise a School" for Reflections, The Society for Organizational Learning Journal. She is co-author of "Performance through Learning: Knowledge Management in Practice" and co-editor of a Butterworth-Heinemann series "Frontiers in Learning."   




Wednesday, March 19, 2014- 1-2 PM ET

Listening to the Patient 
Guest: Sally Okun 



The management of long-term chronic illness is a major challenge today, and much of the management is accomplished in the home, by patients and their families. PatientsLikeMe was founded in 2004 as a support and research-based social network, a place where patients can connect with other patients with the same illness, learn from others, and share what they themselves have learned.  



Audio from all PlexusCall series is available by searching the iTunes store for plexuscalls. Or, visit under Resources/Call Series. 


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