Researchers at Yale University in the United States have managed to keep brain cells of pigs that had passed through the slaughterhouse alive for 36 hours, according to the MIT Technology Review. According to this magazine, the research represents a scientific leap that could change the definition of death.
The feat offers scientists a new way to study intact brains in the laboratory with surprising details. But it also opens a strange new possibility for the extension of life, in the event that human brains can be maintained in life support outside the body.
The experience, developed by the team of neuroscientist Nenad Sestan, was developed with almost 200 brains obtained from a slaughterhouse. Certain aspects of the brain function of these pigs were preserved until they were connected to a revitalization system, which occurred four hours after the animals died.
The researchers managed to restore the circulation of these brains separated from the body by feeding them oxygen through a system of artificial blood, pumps and heaters that kept the circuit at body temperature.
Thanks to this system, called BrainEx, billions of cells of these brains were kept alive and in good condition, supposedly capable of normal activity. However, these brains did not register any form of consciousness.
Although the results of this work have not yet been published in any scientific journal, researchers have revealed them at a meeting of the National Institute of Health of the United States, of which the MIT magazine has reported in scoop.
According to the researchers at that meeting, the discovery could help restore microcirculation, that is, the oxygenation of small blood vessels that are in the deepest recesses of the human brain. This means that this experiment could help develop new clinical treatments for certain types of cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, according to these researchers.
Lengthen human life?
The technique, however, raises numerous ethical problems, highlight the authors of this work. One of the questions he raises is that, if BrainEx were ever applied to human beings, would the brain that remained artificially alive retain memories, identity or the same rights as other human beings?
Some scientists believe that the finding will allow us to observe the connections between brain cells and create a new atlas of the brain. However, it can not be said to mean that it is possible to dodge death or transplant brains between people.
Explains Steve Hyman, director of psychiatric research at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who was among those informed about the work.
The similarity with techniques to preserve organs such as hearts or lungs for transplantation could make some mistakenly consider technology as a way to avoid death, says Hyman in the journal.
He adds that many people, especially those facing a terminal illness, may think that this result represents a hope of survival.
Until now, these patients have been presented with the possibility of freezing their brain until medicine finds a remedy for their disease. At that time, they suppose, it would be possible to thaw the brain and link it to a healthy body or an artificial life system. In fact, according to NewsweekTwo years ago, a rabbit brain was recovered successfully after being cryogenized.