Yale scientists restore cellular activity in a pig’s brain hours after its death

In what some may view as a porcine version of Frankenstein, Yale University scientists have restored circulation and cellular activity in a pig’s brain four hours after its death. The work challenges some of the basic assumptions about the irreversible impact of death on brain function. Previously, scientists thought that basic cellular functions ceased within seconds or minutes of the cessation of oxygen and blood flow to the brain.

For their study, the scientists obtained the recently deceased brain of a pig from a food production facility. They then injected its brain with a “uniquely formulated solution” called BrainEx that they had developed with the goal of preserving brain tissue. They discovered that neural cell integrity was preserved, while other neuronal, glial, and vascular cell functionality was restored.

However, before you start running for the hills at the prospect of zombie pigs, it’s worth noting that the researchers did not observe any kind of organized electrical activity associated with regular brain function. While the distinction between a living brain and a cellularly active brain may not be one you have to ponder every day, the treated brain in the experiment distinctly lacked the electric activity that would indicate life. There’s also no guarantee that a similar treatment would work with the human brain.

“Restoration of consciousness was never a goal of this research,” said co-author Stephen Latham, director of Yale’s Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics, in a statement. “The researchers were prepared to intervene with the use of anesthetics and temperature reduction to stop organized global electrical activity if it were to emerge. Everyone agreed in advance that experiments involving revived global activity couldn’t go forward without clear ethical standards and institutional oversight mechanisms.”

Ultimately, the study is most likely to be used for the study of brain function, rather than the altogether creepier mission of bringing porcine specimens back from the beyond. Nonetheless, it’s a fascinating insight that could pave the way for plenty of intriguing research down the line.

A paper describing the research, titled Restoration of Brain Circulation and Cellular Functions Hours Post-mortem,” was recently published in the journal Nature.

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