Neuroscientists Partially Revive Pig Brains After Death

NinaMarie/Pixabay

Source: NinaMarie/Pixabay

A commonly held view is that when brain cells die, it is an irreversible, final state. Within less than 40 seconds of oxygen deprivation, the human brain’s interneuronal activity ceases and becomes electrically inactive. The brain’s ion gradients begin to degrade within minutes, as depolarization proliferates as a surge of electrochemical energy is released as heat—a brain tsunami. Neuroscience researchers from the Yale School of Medicine announced the successful revival of circulation and cellular activity in pig brains for hours after death and published their study on April 17 in Nature.

To perform their experiments, the researchers studied 32 disembodied brains from pigs that were already dispatched by a food industry meatpacking plant, according to Nature News. The team created a circulation system called BrainEx that imitates blood circulation in order to deliver oxygen, nutrients, and chemicals that stop porcine neurons from firing.

The neuroscientists structured the study to prevent reanimating consciousness. According to a report issued by Yale, Stephen Latham, director of Yale’s Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics, and co-author of the study, said that “Restoration of consciousness was never a goal of this research. The researchers were prepared to intervene with the use of anesthetics and temperature-reduction to stop organized global electrical activity if it were to emerge.”

“Clinically defined, this is not a living brain, but it is a cellularly active brain,” said co-first author and neuroscientist Zvonimir Vrselja according to the same report. “At no point did we observe the kind of organized electrical activity associated with perception, awareness, or consciousness.”

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The research team was able to restore circulation and molecular and cellular functions in the intact pig brain ex vivo up to four hours after death. In the research study, the neuroscientists wrote, “These findings demonstrate that under appropriate conditions the isolated, intact large mammalian brain possesses an underappreciated capacity for restoration of microcirculation and molecular and cellular activity after a prolonged post-mortem interval.”

“For the first time, we are able to investigate the large brain in three dimensions, which increases our ability to study complex cellular interactions and connectivity,” co-first author Stefano G. Daniele said in the Yale report.

A stroke is a brain attack that occurs when the blood flow is cut off, and the brain cells are deprived of oxygen and begin to die. CDC statistics from 2017 attribute stroke as the leading cause of adult disability—one out of every twenty deaths in the United States is due to stroke. Globally, strokes are the second leading causes of death and the third leading cause of disability, according to World Health Organization 2016 estimates.

These are exciting times in neuroscience. Last year, professors Jens Dreier of Charité’s Center for Stroke Research and Jed Hartings of the Department of Neurosurgery at the University of Cincinnati published findings that the brain tsunami in both humans and animals is reversible up to a certain period, and that nerve cells will fully recover if circulation is restored in time. That discovery, along with this new watershed neuroscientific advancement by the Yale School of Medicine announced yesterday, may help accelerate other neuroscientific discoveries worldwide. Researchers hope to understand and develop novel methods to recover brain functionality after a stroke or other types of traumatic brain injury—providing a glimmer of hope for all of humanity in the not-so-distant future.

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