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Can stem cell injections revive a dead brain? Ambitious ‘Reanima Project’ aims to find out

An American biotech company wants to revive dead people’s brains – and a medical watchdog has just given them permission.

With this permission, Philadelphia-based Bioquark Inc. is now immediately seeking dead participants for their clinical trial, which will commence at Anupam Hospital in India. Valid patients must be certified dead, kept alive only by life support. Called the Reanima Project, the trial may be the first official one of its kind. 

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We know what you’re thinking: “Great – zombies.” But Bioquark CEO, Ira Pastor told Digital Trends that he and his team have arranged an industry-standard, common-sense protocol that’s optimized for safety. He added that the project has received “Institutional review board (IRB) approval from [Anupam Hospital] and the Institutional Committee for Stem Cell Research & Therapy (IC-SCRT).” They’ve also sought and received detailed and informed consent from the families of participating patients.

The project will begin with “First in Human Neuro-Regeneration and Neuro-Reanimation,” a proof of concept trial to test the project’s methods before diving into more complex efforts. During the six-week stage, doctors will inject peptides into patients’ spinal cords every day, and inject stem cells twice a week. 

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Using brain imaging, Pastor and his team will monitor participants’ brains for signs of regeneration. They’ll pay particularly close attention to the upper spinal cord and brainstem, the region that controls independent breathing and heartbeat. When brainstem function is permanently lost, a person is certified dead. A positive initial result would include “a functional epimorphic event at the intersection of the upper spinal cord…and the lowest region of the brainstem,” Pastor said.

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“When we mention the term ‘epimorphic’ in this context, we refer ability of cells to erase their history and re-start life again along a defined generative developmental pattern, based on their surrounding tissue micro-environment,” he clarified. That means the cells refresh and adapt to their new environment like a freshman in university. This process may mirror similar processes that appear sparingly in the animal kingdom, as some fish, amphibians, and planarians show regenerative feats following critical trauma.

Assistive life support can keep a brain-dead person “alive.” And a brain-dead patient’s body can still perform certain involuntary functions, such as circulating blood, digesting food, and healing wounds. But the scientific consensus is that the body cannot act as a viable system without brainstem function. Pastor and his team hope the peptides and supplemental brain stem cells will revive some of their patients’ brainstem functions. 

“As the subjects are true ‘human models’ of disease and degeneration, this work will provide important insights for future therapeutic development for other severe disorders of consciousness, such as coma, vegetative, and minimally conscious states,” Pastor said. He added that the trial may provide further insight into new therapies for degenerative central nervous system conditions, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and ALS.

He and his team hope to see results from the initial study within two to three months.