Scientists managed to restore cell activity in vital organs of pigs one hour after death

Scientists successfully revived vital organs from deceased pigs with a technology that shows promise for organ transplantation and further blurs the line between life and death.

The research, published Wednesday in the journal Naturechallenges the assumption that tissue death is rapid and irreversible, as scientists were able to restore function to several organs within an hour after the pigs’ hearts had stopped.

“The latest findings raise a number of questions, including whether it will be necessary to review the medical and biological determinations of death”said Brendan Parent, director of transplant ethics and policy research at New York University Grossman School of Medicine, in comments attached to the article. The findings, he noted, may also force a rethink of intensive care processes.

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Shortly after cardiac arrest, blood stops circulating throughout the body, resulting in a lack of oxygen and nutrient circulation that triggers a series of processes that lead to cell death and organ damage. Scientists have been looking for ways to protect cells and organs from this process for years.

researchers led by David Andrijevic of the Yale University School of Medicine adapted a technology called BrainEx for whole-body use and found that it worked better than a standard technique for artificially adding oxygen to the bloodcalled extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, which is used in hospitals to help patients whose organs have failed.

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System

The tuned system, designed by Andrijevic and two colleagues and called OrganEx, allowed oxygen to recirculate through the pigs’ bodies, preserving cells and organs an hour after cardiac arrest. The group had previously shown that BrainEx could restore some activity to cells in pigs’ brains after hours of oxygen deprivation.

Findings hold promise for preservation and transport of organs for transplantationthe researchers said, although they were reluctant to speculate about other uses.

“This is a long way from being used in humans,” said Stephen Latham, director of the Yale Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethicsadding that the process will require much more study before scientists contemplate it for people.

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Others not involved in the research said the findings have more ramifications.

“Biological death is more like falling dominoes, one event triggering the next,” said Martin Monti, professor of cognitive psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“What is innovative about this technology,” Monti said, “is that this decline can be stopped in some organs if only the correct cellular environment and metabolic parameters can be restored. The potential implications, if this is ever successfully translated to humans, are huge.”

The researchers emphasized that the pigs did not suffer pain because they were anesthetized and no electrical activity was detected in their brains.

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