While it may sound like something from a science-fiction horror film, it isn’t. Recently, scientists from Yale University were able to restore cellular activity in the brains of pigs that had recently been killed in the slaughterhouse.
Acquired from a food processing plant around New Haven, Connecticut, the pigs used in the study were previously going to be used for their meat. The scientists used a technology they call BrainEx, which works similar to how a dialysis machine works on 32 pig brains. In their study published in the journal, Nature, they found that much of the brain’s cellular function could be restored.
However, they did also explain that none of the brains had regained the same organized electrical activity that is often associated with consciousness.
“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,” explained a lead author on the study, Nenad Sestan, who is also a professor of neuroscience, comparative medicine, genetics, and psychiatry.
“At no point did we observe the kind of organized electrical activity associated with perception, awareness, or consciousness,” co-author, Zvonimir Vrselja said in a statement.“Clinically defined, this is not a living brain, but it is a cellularly active brain.”
For quite some time, cellular death in the brain was thought to be irreversible. Once cut off from oxygen and our blood supply, the brain quickly begins to fade. Now, due to this study, stroke patients and those who had endured heart attacks, or really anything that has restricted blood flow and oxygen to the brain, may have a fighting chance.
“We’re excited about this as a platform that could help us better understand how to treat people who have had heart attacks and have lost normal blood flow to the brain,” says Khara Ramos, director of the Neuroethics Program at the U.S National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke told National Geographic. “It enhances our ability to study cells as they exist in connection with each other, in that three-dimensional, large, complicated way.”
To restore brain function in the pigs, the Brain Ex device pumped a blood substitute into the pig brains, to restore many of the functions, like the cells’ ability to create energy and remove waste.
Another thing worth noting is that the researchers are unsure of how long these effects could last. During their study, they kept the pig brains alive for 36 hours. “It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won’t be able to recover. We just flew a few hundred meters, but can we fly?” says Sestan when speaking on this.
For now, more research needs to be done, but who knows how this could evolve. This is a massive step in the right direction.