Pig’s brain made ‘cellularly active’ by scientists four hours after death

Scientists in the US have restored some activity within the brain of a pig that had died hours before, raising hopes for some medical advances and questions about the definition of death. 

A dead pigs brain had some of its functions restored hours after it had been removed from the animal.

According to The Sun, scientists were able to restore some circulation and cellular activity to the brain four hours after the pigs death, challenging long held assumptions about the timing and supposed irreversible nature of brain death.

The pigs brain was taken from a meat packing factory to a laboratory where it had a special chemical solution called BrainEx technology circulated through it.

During this process many basic cellular functions, which were thought to stop and never return after death, were restored.

These images show before and after shots, with the after image looking a lot more active. Picture: Stefano G. Daniele, Zvonimir Vrselja/Sestan Laboratory/Yale School of Medicine
Senior author of the research Professor Nenad Sestan said:

The intact brain of a large mammal retains a previously underappreciated capacity for restoration of circulation and certain molecular and cellular activities multiple hours after circulatory arrest.

However, the researchers did stress that the brain did not give off any signals that were close to implying normal brain function or consciousness.

This is why the brain can only be referred to as a “cellularly active” brain and not a living one.

Brain cells begin to die when oxygen to the brain is cut off for a long period of time and this process has long been considered irreversible.

The new findings could help scientists study the brain in a much more in depth way and the researchers believe their work could be built upon to one day help stroke patients or enable tests for new brain therapies.

The research was largely funded by the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) BRAIN Initiative.

Andrea Beckel-Mitchener, chief of functional neurogenomics at the NIH’s National Institute of 

Mental Health, said:

This line of research holds hope for advancing understanding and treatment of brain disorders and could lead to a whole new way of studying the post-mortem human brain.

The scientists said they are not yet sure whether their technique could be applied to a dead human brain because the chemical solution they used for the pig lacks the necessary human components, such as blood cells.

They also stressed that any future human experimentation will be done following strict ethical guidelines and that restoring consciousness after death was not the initial goal of the project.

Despite this, the scientists had anaesthetic and temperature-reducing tools to hand while they conducted the experiment just in case consciousness was restored and they needed to ethically stop the subject’s brain from coming back to life if it began showing signs of organised electrical activity.

This story was originally published in The Sun.

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