A team of Yale scientists managed to revive cellular activity in the brains of dead pigs that had been slaughtered hours before, challenging previous assumptions that brain cells irreversibly die off once the blood flow stops.
According to the researchers, the pigs had been dead for four hours when the brain cells were revived. The researchers used a special device that circulated a “blood-like chemical solution” through the pig’s brain, which maintained cellular activity six hours later. The study was funded mostly through the National Institutes of Health.
This does not mean the pigs were “living,” in the sense that they exhibited electrical activity associated with “consciousness,” senior researcher Dr. Nenad Sestan said. It merely meant that their brains were “cellularly active” and their brains showed no large-scale electrical activity that would indicate awareness.
Sestan said the findings have profound implications for stroke therapies and other disorders that cause brain cells to die. Co-researcher Stephen Latham, director of the Yale Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics, said the same process could be used to preserve organs harvested for donations.
But the experiment has also raised some ethical concerns. Bioethicist Nita Farahany, who has urged ethics guidelines for similar experiments in the future, said the study leaves a “gaping gray zone, with almost no guidance of how to proceed ethically.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.