Scientists Partially Revive Brains Hours After Death
After six years, scientists at Yale University have successfully restored cellular activity in parts of dead brains harvested from pigs. The researchers emphasized that the brains did not regain consciousness in any way, but various cellular functions were restored. The results are reported in detail by both National Geographic and Nature.
It is well known among neurologists that brain cells can be removed and studied in a dish hours after death. However, Nenad Sestan, a neuroscientist at the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven says that “the problem is, once you do that, you are losing the 3D organization of the brain." The scientists worked towards a method of studying brain cells while leaving the surrounding structure intact.
After experimenting on around 300 pig heads from a nearby pork processing center, they developed the BrainEx system. The first step of the process is releasing the residual blood and cooling down the tissue. The brains are then placed in a chamber where BrainEx connects to specific vessels and circulates a solution that properly nourishes the cells. They found that the brains that were nourished and the brains that were left without nourishment looked physically different. Sestan detailed that the “tissue and cellular structure [was] preserved and cell death [was] reduced.”
Stephen Latham, a Yale bioethicist who assisted the project expressed concern about restoring consciousness in the brains. Scientists on the team did not want to perform an experiment that involved inducing consciousness without any ethical guidance. All brain activity was perpetually monitored so that anesthesia and cooling could be used to shut down any signs of awareness.
The results of this research are only the start of possible discoveries relating to the human brain. According to Kevin Cmunt, CEO ofGift of Hope, one of the United States's largest organ donation networks, BrainEx could “be incorporated into the list of interventions before declaring someone brain-dead or deciding to end life support.”