Researchers at Yale University have developed a system that allowed them to restore some cellular activity to the brains of slaughtered pigs, The New York Times reported. Dubbed “BrainEx” the system, pumped an experimental solution into the intact brains of slaughtered pigs. After six hours, they observed many basic cellular functions that were previously thought to cease shortly after losing oxygen and blood flow.
“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,” senior author Nenad Sestan said in a statement.
The team also stressed that, while some cellular function was restored, there was no sign that the brains regained consciousness. “At no point did we observe the kind of organized electrical activity associated with perception, awareness, or consciousness,” co-first author Zvonimir Vrselja said.
This research not only confirms how little we know about brain injury and brain death, but also raises questions regarding ethics. “We had clear lines between ‘this is alive’ and ‘this is dead’,” bioethicist Nita A. Farahany said. “How do we now think about this middle category of ‘partly alive’? We didn’t think it could exist.”
While researchers agree that brain resuscitation as a standard medical practice is still years away, Christine Grady of the National Institutes of Health, which supported the research, believes this first-of-its-kind study could have further implications that could assist practitioners and researchers in the meantime. This work “presents the first time an opportunity to study the whole mammal brain outside the body after death,” she said. “It allows researchers to map cells and connections between them in ways that were never before possible.