A group of researchers out of Yale University are now challenging the idea of irreversible cardiac death in the wake of the discovery of new technology that has been tested on pigs that restored some of the animal’s heart and brain cells over an hour after death.
As reported this past Wednesday by one scientific journal, Nature, a team of scientists managed to revive some circulation and cellular activity from the vital organs of pigs by making use of a new life-support type of system that was created by the group which has been labeled OrganEx, which streams through a mix of over 13 compounds dispersed in pig blood into the pig’s cardiovascular system and oxygenizes its tissue.
The brand new experimental system seems to be an evolution from similar technology that was created back in 2019 that allowed the delivery of artificial blood into the brain of a pig called BrainEx.
“We made cells do something they weren’t able to do,” explained a neuroscientist and team member at Yale University, Zvonimir Vrselja, to the scientific journal. “We’re not saying it’s clinically relevant, but it’s moving in the right direction.”
While the researchers kept the animals in a heavily sedated state and connected to ventilators both before and after death from cardiac arrest, they studied that both the kidneys and livers of the pigs still sported some functionality. The study also highlighted electrical activity and contractions in the animal’s heart cells taking place.
“All cells do not die immediately,” stated one associate research scientist in neuroscience at Yale School of Medicine and co-lead author of the study, David Andrijevic, to the university. “There is a more protracted series of events.”
“It is a process in which you can intervene, stop, and restore some cellular function,” Andrijevic expressed.
Throughout the six-hour process, the dead pigs started to move their neck, head, and torso involuntarily — which shocked researchers, who claimed that the spinal cords may have been controlling those specific motor functions.
“We can say that animals were not conscious during these moments, and we don’t have enough information to speculate why they moved,” stated Dr. Nenad Sestan, a professor of neuroscience at the Yale School of Medicine and an author of the new research, as reported by NBC News.
A bit of the brain tissue was preserved as part of the process. However, it showed no coordinated activity, which could have meant that the animal was coming back to “consciousness or sentience.”
“If you can regain some function in a dead pig brain, you can do it in other organs, too,” explained Sestan.
The researchers stated that it was hard to tell the difference between normal healthy organs and those who have gone through the use of OraganEx under a microscope.
Despite the researchers having only just started the experimental phase of their research, this new cellular restoration process could end up being replicated for human use, effectively extending the lives of those who suffer from a stroke or a heart attack. The new tech could also end up expanding organ transplant availability.
“There are numerous potential applications of this exciting new technology,” expressed the director of the Yale Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics Stephen Latham, to the university. “However, we need to maintain careful oversight of all future studies, particularly any that include perfusion of the brain.”