Scientists claim to have restored cellular function in the brains of 32 pigs that had been dead for hours.
In a report in the journal Nature, researchers at the Yale University School of Medicine say they have devised a system called BrainEx that restores circulation and oxygen flow to a dead brain, opening up a whole new window of opportunities to treat a range of brain conditions, including Alzheimer’s and stroke.
The research team acquired the pigs’ heads from an abattoir in Connecticut, after the animals had already been killed for meat.
They say that technically, the pigs’ brains remained dead and did not show any signs of the organised electrical neural activity required for awareness or consciousness. However, during six hours in the BrainEx system, scientists were able to ‘reboot’ some of the cell function, which included the ability to take in glucose and oxygen, opening the way for scientists to prevent irreparable damage to brain cells once blood stops circulating.
“Clinically defined, this is not a living brain,” says study co-author Nenad Sestan.
“We’re really excited about this as a platform that could help us better understand how to treat people who have had heart attacks and have lost normal blood flow to the brain,” said Khara Ramos, director of the Neuroethics Program at the US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
“It really enhances our ability to study cells as they exist in connection with each other, in that three-dimensional, large, complicated way.”
Oxford University professor of medical ethics Dominic Wilkinson said, “Once someone has been diagnosed as ‘brain dead’, there is currently no way for that person to ever recover.
“The human person that they were has gone forever.
“If, in the future, it were possible to restore the function of the brain after death, to bring back someone’s mind and personality, that would, of course, have important implications for our definitions of death,” Professor Wilkinson said.
Dr Andrea Beckel-Mitchener, from the Brain Initiative at the US National Institute of Mental Health, said: “This line of research could lead to a whole new way of studying the post-mortem brain.
“It also could stimulate research to develop interventions that promote brain recovery after loss of brain blood flow.”
Does this report give you hope that brain damage might be reversed one day?