Scientists Revive Cells in Dead Pigs’ Brains and Everyone Has Questions

18 Avril, 2019, 07:55 | Auteur: Yves Courtet
  • Three-week-old pigs in Walcott Iowa

Dead pigs' brains have been partially revived in a study that upends established wisdom about what happens when we die, raising serious ethical questions even though researchers claim the brains never regained consciousness.

Circulation and cellular activity were restored in a pig's brain four hours after its death, a finding that challenges long-held assumptions about the timing and irreversible nature of the cessation of some brain functions after death, Yale scientists report April 17 in the journal Nature. The brains of ordinary pigs, taken from a slaughterhouse, were cleansed and cooled, then pumped full of a chemical cocktail created to slow their deterioration, and the results - published Wednesday in the journal Nature - are striking.

Instead, researchers pursued this study after earlier research indicated that scientists might have been wildly pessimistic about the ability of brain cells to survive after an animal's death, Sestan said.

The experiments were successful in keeping numerous cells inside the brains alive and functioning for more than a day. But the team connected the brains to their solution four hours after death and found it protected them from naturally degrading after death.

The team from the NIH BRAIN initiative, a federally funded United States research programme, used the brains of 32 pigs that had been slaughtered for food and discarded, without blood or glucose flow, for four hours each.

He explained: "Clinically defined this is not a living brain - but it's a cellularly active brain".

BrainEx is described as a "pulsatile perfusion system", which means it intermittently pumps the researcher's special solution through the brains vast architecture of blood vessels.

"We had clear lines between "this is alive" and "this is dead, ' " said Nita A. Farahany, a bioethicist and law professor at Duke University".

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Until now, it has been assumed that the brain declines quickly when its blood supply is cut off. Cells deteriorate, and the connections between neurons crumble.

'What we are showing is the process of cell death is a gradual, stepwise process.

"In addition, some molecular and cellular functions were restored, including glial and vascular response to stimuli, as well as spontaneous synaptic activity along with active global metabolism".

In the long term, scientists hope to find better ways of protecting the brain after traumas such as a stroke or being starved of oxygen at birth.

The brain is a highly sensitive organ.

A new experiment has raised medical and ethical questions as serious as those surrounding human gene editing: A support system delivering artificial blood to pig brains prevented degradation of important neural functions, Yale researchers discovered.

Ethicists, writing in Nature, said new guidelines were needed for this field because animals used for research could end up in a "grey area - not alive, but not completely dead". Such an advance in technology may enable scientists to pump the BrainEx solution through postmortem human samples to study diseases and treatments that would otherwise be impossible to investigate in a living human.

At the moment no, but some ethicists say we should have the debate now as people who are "brain dead" are a major source of organs for transplant. It also poses big ethical questions and forces us to reconsider the definitions of death.

Researchers are now seeing if they can keep the brain functions they observed going for longer than six hours of treatment, which Latham said would be necessary to use the technology as a research tool. Until now, that has been thought to be part of a swift cascade of brain death that permanently destroys cell function. Researchers could use BrainEx to study the effects of injury on the dynamics of the brain, or the effects of certain drugs.

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