Research finds live brain cells in dead pigs

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DHAKA, April 18, 2019 (BSS) – A new scientific research has visibly upended a traditional assumption about the line between life and death, restoring some cellular activities to brains of slaughtered pigs, according to an article carried by Nature, the international science journal in its latest issue.

“In a challenge to the idea that brain death is final, researchers have revived the disembodied brains of pigs four hours after the animals were slaughtered,” read the article published in Nature’s April 17 issue.

It said researchers at the US Yale University managed to keep alive pig brains outside body for hours after the animals’ death.

According to Nature, the scientists hooked the organs to a system that pumped in a blood substitute and the technique restored some crucial functions like the ability of cells to produce energy and remove waste, and helped to maintain the brains’ internal structures.

The experiment found that the blood vessels in the pigs’ brains began functioning, flowing with a blood substitute and certain brain cells regained metabolic activity, even responding to drugs and when the researchers tested slices of treated brain tissue, they discovered electrical activity in some neurons.

The latest study also raises questions about whether brain damage and death are permanent with emergency-medicine specialist at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset Lance Becker saying that many doctors assume that even minutes without oxygen can cause irreversible harm.

But, he said, the pig experiments suggest that the brain might stay viable for much longer than previously thought, even without outside support.

“This paper (article) throws a hand grenade into the middle of what the common beliefs are,” says Becker. “We may have vastly underestimated the ability of the brain to recover,” Becker commented.

Since the early twentieth century, scientists have conducted experiments that keep animals’ brains alive from the moment the heart stops, by cooling the brains and pumping in blood or a substitute but how well the organs functioned afterwards, however, remained unclear”.

“Other (previous) studies have shown that cells taken from brains long after death can perform normal activities, such as making proteins. This made Yale neuroscientist Nenad Sestan wonder: could a whole brain be revived hours after death?” the article read.

Sestan decided to find out – using severed heads from 32 pigs that had been killed for meat at a slaughterhouse near his lab. His team removed each brain from its skull and placed it into a special chamber before fitting the organ with a catheter and eventually came out with the findings.

The article pointed out the ethical and legal questions involving the experiment and feared its implication to the human being saying “revival of disembodied organs raises slew of ethical and legal questions about the nature of death and consciousness”.

“A person is considered to be legally dead when brain activity ceases or when the heart and lungs stop working. The brain requires an immense amount of blood, oxygen and energy, and going even a few minutes without these vital support systems is thought to cause irreversible damage.

“But the idea that parts of the brain may be recoverable after death, as conventionally defined, contradicts everything medical science believes about the organ and poses metaphysical riddles,” it said.

Prestigious global daily The New York Times prominently covered the discovery in a report titled ‘Partly Alive’: Scientists Revive Cells in Brains From Dead Pigs.

The newspaper, however, described the work to be “very preliminary” and has no immediate implications for treatment of brain injuries in humans.

The Nature article, however, itself expressed concerns about the ethical aspects of the study saying “although the experiments stopped short of restoring consciousness, they raise questions about the ethics of the approach – and, more fundamentally, about the nature of death itself”.

“For most of human history, death was very simple . . . Now, we have to question what is irreversible,” said Christof Koch, president and chief scientist of the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, Washington while commenting on the research.

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