Scientists have rebooted vital organs of dead pigs in an experiment bioethicists say may force a rethink of how the body dies, and that further blurs the boundaries between life and death.
Using a system dubbed “OrganEx” that uses special pumps and a cocktail of chemicals to restore oxygen and prevent cell death throughout the body, the Yale University team restored blood circulation and other cellular functions in multiple porcine organs an hour after the pigs’ deaths from cardiac arrest.
Electrical activity was restored in the heart, for instance. The muscle was contracting.
The study “reveals the underappreciated capacity for cellular recovery after prolonged whole-body warm ischemia (loss of blood circulation, and thus oxygen) in a large mammal,” the team r eports in the journal Nature .
The experiments also bolster findings from another Yale-led project three years ago that involved disembodied pigs’ brains. Using a similar perfusion system called BrainEx, researchers restored some functions in brains taken from pigs four hours after they were killed in a meatpacking plant.
That was an isolated organ. The team wondered, could they apply a similar approach on a whole-body scale?
Together, the research challenges old thinking that the body’s cells and organs begin to be irreversibly destroyed within minutes of the heart stopping. Instead, “cellular demise can be halted, and their state (can) be shifted towards recovery at molecular and cellular levels,” the Yale team writes in Nature.