Researchers Partially Reverse Death in Pig Organs

OrganEx technology could change the medical definition of death
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 3, 2022 5:30 PM CDT
Scientists Partially Revive Organs in Dead Pigs
Researchers anesthetized the research pigs before inducing cardiac arrest.   (Getty Images/gabort71)

Yale University researchers have come up with an apparent cure for death, at least in pig organs. In research published in the journal Nature, researchers said their OrganEx system, which uses a network of pumps, filter, and tubing, restored circulation and repaired damaged cells in pigs that had been dead for hours. A cocktail of blood mixed with 13 drugs was pumped through the animals' bodies starting an hour after death had been confirmed. "The demise of cells can be halted," said Dr. Nenad Sestan, a Yale School of Medicine neuroscience professor and one of the study's authors. "We restored some functions of cells across multiple organs that should have been dead." Electrical activity returned to the pigs' hearts, though they didn't start beating again.

Researchers compared the OrganEx system against ECMO life-support technology, which hospitals use when people's hearts and lungs have failed. Unlike ECMO, which "only slows cell death," OrganEx "greatly improved the cellular architecture in tissues, including in the brain," Brendan Parent writes in a commentary piece at Nature. "It even activated genetic programmes involved in cellular repair and restoration of normal cell function in the pigs’ kidneys, hearts, and livers." Parent notes that the research raises many questions about organ donation possibilities—and whether "medical and biological determinations of death will need revising."

The Yale study builds on earlier research, in which cellular activity was restored to the brains of decapitated pigs. The researchers say no electrical activity was detected in the pigs' brains in the latest experiment, though that may have been because the solution "included anaesthetic compounds and neuronal blockers that could have suppressed such signals." NBC reports that researchers were startled when the dead pigs' heads and necks moved under their own power. The animals were not conscious, and "we don’t have enough information to speculate why they moved," Sestan says. Researchers say much more work needs to be done before OrganEx can be used on human patients, but in the nearer term, it could help transplant organs move longer distances and remain viable. (Read more scientific breakthroughs stories.)

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