#NewsBytesExplainer: How Yale scientists revived pig organs after death
Scientists have rebooted the vital organs of deceased pigs in an experiment that bioethicists say may push a revaluation of how the body dies and further blur the line between life and death. Using a customized device, Yale University researchers were capable of resurrecting some dead tissues and cells in pigs that had been dead for over an hour, The Print reported.
- The new study "reveals the underappreciated capacity for cellular recovery after prolonged whole-body warm ischemia (loss of blood circulation, and thus oxygen) in a large mammal," the researchers' team reportedly stated.
- Unaffiliated scientists have also hailed the study as "revolutionary" and "mind-blowing."
- The work, most importantly, calls into question, even in small parts, the definition of death as absolute and completely irreversible.
"All cells don't die immediately, there's a more protracted series of events," reportedly stated associate research scientist, David Andrijevic of Yale School of Medicine and the co-author of the study. "It's a process in which you can intervene, stop....restore some cellular function," Andrijevic added. The research reportedly has the potential to increase organ donor availability while also extending the life of human organs.
The regeneration of organ function in the initial stages of death is an intriguing outcome for resolving the scarcity of human organs for transplant, which is frequently exacerbated by how rapidly organs degrade after death. The pigs' bodies were pumped with a solution called OrganEx, which contained blood, drugs that inhibit cell death, nerve blockers (to prevent brain activity), and nutrients.
The solution stopped rigor mortis, the hardening of limbs and cells when oxygen is depleted, which is witnessed in the bodies of all deceased mammals. This solution was injected into the pigs using a custom device. The extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, a machine that was used to treat other pigs in the trial, caused their blood vessels to collapse and they stiffened up.
Several researchers who have now revived the cells and tissues of dead pigs were able to illustrate this three years ago when they created BrainEx, an infusion that could reportedly reinstate brain cellular functions four hours after death. In the latest study, the researchers attempted to experimentally apply the restorative solution to the entire body of a pig kept at body temperature.
The pigs' hearts began to beat and body circulation was restored. Numerous cellular functions were restored in organs such as the kidney, liver, and brain. Before their hearts were stopped, an anesthetic was administered to the pigs, and nerve blockers prevented them from waking up, being conscious, or experiencing pain, effectively maintaining their brain dead and painless while their bodies continued to function partially.
Reperfusion is the circulation of artificial or transfused blood into the vascular system and tissues deprived of oxygen. The reperfusion of warm, ischaemic pigs employed in the Yale experiment lasted six hours, beginning one hour after the animals' demise, and yielded unprecedented success, as per the researchers. The experiment was therefore successful and its results were published on Wednesday in the scientific journal Nature.
The study's authors were able to define death as a multi-step procedure rather than an immediate process occurring within a specific time frame. They also created a unique resource for further studies into death and reperfusion by conducting a complete single-cell genomic analysis of a pig's multiple organs and how cellular repair mechanisms take place. The entire study, however, is in its early stages.
"This application of...OrganEx technology demonstrates....cellular demise can be halted....can be shifted towards recovery," the study stated. Yale University is attempting to patent this experiment, which is far from ready for human application since its impacts and time period of regeneration remain unknown. It's also unclear how the mammal's brain will be affected and how effectively brain function will recover following complete body reperfusion.