Yale research scientists restored some function and cellular activity to vital organs of pigs, such as their heart and brain.
Their findings, announced in a Nature article published Wednesday, may change how death is determined and maybe increase organ transplants. The study authors stressed that they did not bring the animals back to life.
“We made cells do something they weren’t able to do [after the pig died],” said Dr. Zvonimir Vrselja, a Yale neuroscientist. “We’re not saying it’s clinically relevant but it’s moving in the right direction.”
Another Yale neuroscientist, Dr. Nenad Sestan, had predicted the experiments might work in light of the team’s 2019 pig-brain study. “If you can regain some function in a dead pig brain, you can do it in other organs, too,” Sestan said, adding that of all the body’s organs, the brain is most susceptible to oxygen deprivation.
The Yale researchers “OrganEx” solution included compounds to suppress blood clotting and the immune system, which is more active everywhere else in the body besides the brain, according to Vrselja.
The team of researchers got pigs from a local farm breeder and monitored them for three days before sedating them. The sedated pigs were placed on a ventilator before researchers induced cardiac arrest by shocking their hearts.
The pigs were removed from the ventilators after researchers confirmed they had no pulse. One hour after the pigs died, researchers restarted the ventilators and anesthesia. Then some of the pigs were given the OrganEx solution. Some pigs were not given any treatment. Others were hooked up to an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine, which some hospitals use in a last-ditch effort to supply oxygen to the body.
After six hours, researchers noticed circulation had restarted much more effectively in pigs that received the OrganEx solution. Oxygen had begun flowing to tissue all over the bodies of the OrganEx test animals and electrical activity and contraction were detected in their hearts. Another Yale team member, Dr. David Andrijevic said in the published study that their hearts did not fully restart and it remains unclear what exactly the hearts were doing.
The Yale scientists also determined livers of the OrganEx pigs produced much more of the protein albumin than livers of the other pigs. The researchers further noted cells in each of the vital organs of the OrganEx pigs responded to glucose much more than pigs in the other groups. The study’s authors said that suggests that the treatment had kick-started their metabolism.
The OrganEx pigs started involuntarily jerking their head, neck and torso after receiving a contrast dye injection that helped visualize the animals’ brains following treatment. The researchers said they did not have a good explanation for why that happened.
They explained that the lack of electrical activity in the brain indicated it is unlikely the impulses were generated by their brains.
It’s only a matter of time before AMC introduces zombie pigs to its flagship drama, “The Walking Dead.”
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