Scientists reanimate dead cells in pigs, a potential breakthrough for organ transplants


Category:  News & Politics

Via:  perrie-halpern  •  2 months ago  •  20 comments

By:   Evan Bush

Scientists reanimate dead cells in pigs, a potential breakthrough for organ transplants
New research is confounding conventional wisdom about life and death.

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T

New research is confounding conventional wisdom about life and death.

Researchers at Yale University used a new technology to restore cells in some organs of pigs that had just died, bringing the animals' cells back to function. The findings, which were published Wednesday in the scientific journal Nature, raise profound ethical questions about how medicine defines deathbut also teases new possibilities for the collection of humanorgans for transplant.

"My eyes went wide," Brendan Parent, an assistant professor of bioethics at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, said about the moment he first read the new findings. "My brain went to all the crazy places we could go in 20 or 30 years." Parent was not involved in the study, but was asked by Nature to write a commentary discussing the implications of the new technology.

The research is still in an early, experimental phase and many years from potential use in humans. It could ultimately help to extend the lives of people whose hearts have stopped beating or who have suffered a stroke. The technology also shows potential to dramatically shift how organs are collected for transplant and increase their availability to patients in need.

When the heart stops beating, blood flow is cut off from the body in a process called ischemia and a cascade of biochemical effects begins. Oxygen and nutrients are cut off from tissues. Cells begin to die. It's a path toward death that causes damage that scientists have considered irreversible.

The new research challenges that idea.

"The demise of cells can be halted," Dr. Nenad Sestan, a professor of neuroscience at the Yale School of Medicine and an author of the new research, said during a news conference. "We restored some functions of cells across multiple organs that should have been dead."

The Yale researchers accomplished this feat by constructing a system of pumps, sensors and tubing that connects to pig arteries. They also developed a formula with 13 medical drugs that can be mixed with blood and then pumped into the animals' cardiovascular systems. The research builds on previous work at Yale, which demonstrated that some damage to brain cells could be reversible after blood flow was cut off. Yale has filed a patent for the new technology, but is making its methods and protocols freely available for academic or nonprofit use, the study says.

To evaluate how well the new system, called OrganEx, works, the researchers caused heart attacks in pigs that had been anesthetized. The pigs were dead for an hour, and the researchers cooled their bodies and used neural inhibitors to ensure the animals did not regain consciousness during subsequent experiments.

Then, the researchers began to use the OrganEx system. They compared its performance against ECMO, a life-support technology used in hospitals today in which a machine oxygenates blood and circulates it throughout the body.

OrganEx restored circulation and prompted the repair of damaged cells. For example, the scientists saw heart cells contract and electrical activity return. Other organs, including kidneys, also showed improvements, the study says.

The pigs treated with OrganEx startled researchers. During experimentation, the dead pigs' heads and necks moved under their own power. The animals remained under heavy anesthesia.

"We can say that animals were not conscious during these moments and we don't have enough information to speculate why they moved," Sestan said.

The researchers do view the neck jerk is an indication some muscle function was restored after death.

The OrganEx research is a single study in a laboratory setting in which researchers had total control over the circumstances of the pigs' death and treatment. Even so, the early results open up possibilities that would have seemed like science fiction a few years ago.

"The assumption that loss of oxygen to the brain or organs within seconds to minutes means those organs are irretrievably damaged and loss — that's not true," said Nita Farahany, a neuroethicist and law professor at Duke University, who was not involved in the study.

The definition of death is a moving target that has shifted as new life-support technology like ventilators or ECMO were developed. Ethicists view OrganEx as ECMO on steroids and something that could change the definition of what medical death means.

"Death is a process. Technology has, at several critical moments in the course of the last several decades, shifted the goal posts for when that process begins and when we can say that the process of death has ended," Parent, the NYU bioethicist, said. "All the iterations of machines that can sustain or restart lung function and or heart function have changed our perception, our experience, of when we can say it's worth trying to save someone's life."

The Yale researchers don't foresee the use of OrganEx to treat people anytime soon.

"Before you hook this up to a person to try to undo whole body ischemic damage in a human being, you'd need to do a lot more work. Not that it couldn't be done, but that's going to be a long ways away," said Stephen Latham, director of the Yale Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics. "There's a great deal more experimentation that would be required."

The implications of only partially reversing damage to a patient who suffered a deadly heart attack or who had drowned are immense, he said.

"You'd have to think about what is the state to which a human being would be restored, if they had been seriously damaged by the ischemia and you gave them kind of a perfusate that reversed some but not all of that damage. That could be a terrible thing, right?" Latham said.

Instead, the researchers see more immediate avenues for real-world use for the research. Today, transplant surgeons must scramble to stay ahead of ischemia and prevent organs from going too long without blood supply.

OrganEx could help transplant organs move longer distances and reach people who would otherwise be out of range for a transplant, Latham said. It could also prevent organs from being lost to ischemic damage, potentially expanding organ supply.

"From a transplant perspective, when every second is critical — what if it's not? What if we have more time?" Farahany said.

The new technology's potential opens new and compelling medical ethics questions — and adds a new twist to some that remain unresolved.

Ethicists have been debating whether it's appropriate to use technology like ECMO to preserve organs in patients who are declared dead under cardiorespiratory criteria.

"If we decide someone is dead because their heart is stopped, but we use a technology to restart their heart — even for organ preservation — does that undermine the determination of death?" asked Parent, outlining the argument about what remains a rare practice.

There is no regulation for how long doctors must wait to determine death before restarting technology like ECMO to preserve organs for transplant, Farahany said. OrganEx could allow for more time between death and organ preservation.

It's also possible OrganEx could change the threshold of when it's ethical for doctors to let a patient die and then preserve their organs for donation.

"In the short run, it's not a treatment. But if it is so effective it could be a treatment — you certainly couldn't recover organs from somebody if you could continue to do things to save their life," Farahany said.

It's a technology that remains in its earliest stages, but could be impactful enough to redefine the line between life and death.


jrDiscussion - desc
Buzz of the Orient
Professor Principal
1  Buzz of the Orient    2 months ago

So what would the SCOTUS say about this?  Is it constitutional?

Vic Eldred
Professor Principal
1.1  Vic Eldred  replied to  Buzz of the Orient @1    2 months ago

A medical advancement?  I don't see anything unconstitutional there.

Buzz of the Orient
Professor Principal
1.1.1  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  Vic Eldred @1.1    2 months ago

Oooops!  Forgot to add the /s.  I thought they made constitutional decisions about people's bodies. 

Masters Silent
1.1.2  SteevieGee  replied to  Vic Eldred @1.1    2 months ago
I don't see anything unconstitutional there.

Reanimated life is life.  If they allow these cells to die they should be prosecuted for animal cruelty regardless of the health risks to the sow or if she was inseminated without her consent.

PhD Guide
2  evilgenius    2 months ago

It's ALIVE! 


All kidding aside this is huge if it pans out. Now if they can restore my body to what I felt like in my 20s... LOL

Buzz of the Orient
Professor Principal
2.1  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  evilgenius @2    2 months ago

Has Einstein's brain been preserved?

PhD Guide
2.1.1  evilgenius  replied to  Buzz of the Orient @2.1    2 months ago
Has Einstein's brain been preserved?

No, but Virginia Leith's head is still talking.


charger 383
Professor Quiet
3  charger 383    2 months ago

Now watch some religious group come out against this

Buzz of the Orient
Professor Principal
4  Buzz of the Orient    2 months ago

To life...(LINK) ->

Sparty On
Professor Principal
5  Sparty On    2 months ago

Uh oh ..... zombies can’t be far off now .....

Mark in Wyoming
Professor Silent
5.1  Mark in Wyoming   replied to  Sparty On @5    2 months ago

I have my crossbow ready....

Sparty On
Professor Principal
5.1.1  Sparty On  replied to  Mark in Wyoming @5.1    2 months ago

Go get em Darryl ..... 

Buzz of the Orient
Professor Principal
5.2  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  Sparty On @5    2 months ago

That went through my head as well when I read the article. 

Trout Giggles
Professor Principal
6  Trout Giggles    2 months ago

I'm gonna raise a pig, named it Cecilia and she can donate her liver to me. And her bacon

Professor Principal
6.1  devangelical  replied to  Trout Giggles @6    2 months ago

my 92 year old ex-FIL has a pig heart valve in him, which he's reluctantly accepted, since another pig, me, implanted something else in his daughter a number of times...

Trout Giggles
Professor Principal
6.1.1  Trout Giggles  replied to  devangelical @6.1    2 months ago

My mother had her mitral valve replaced twice. Once with a valve from a pig. We were raising pigs at the time so my Dad would make some not so funny jokes aimed at my keeping her from playing in the mud with the other pigs.

He finally stopped when she told him Fuck you

PhD Quiet
6.1.2  igknorantzrulz  replied to  Trout Giggles @6.1.1    2 months ago

how romantic....

Professor Principal
6.1.3  CB   replied to  devangelical @6.1    2 months ago

LOL! And folks this is how a turn to the "Non-sequitar" gets INSERTED into us all. I should know, I am a big proponent of conversational 'inserts.'  :)

Professor Principal
7  CB     2 months ago

On a serious note: let the progress begin! This is stellar beginnings on a 'happy evermore' world to come. Bring it on!

Buzz of the Orient
Professor Principal
8  Buzz of the Orient    2 months ago

"Scientists Reanimate Dead Cells In Pigs, A Potential Breakthrough For Organ Transplants"

The headline just made me think that isn't that what Dr. Victor Frankensteirn did, in a much larger scale, of course?


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