Scientists brought a dead pig’s cells and organs back to life — and yours could be next
- Scientists at Yale restore cell and organ activity in a dead pig using a technology called OrganEx.
- OrganEx also has the potential to treat deadly disorders like ischemia.
- After further development, this method could enable us to preserve organs over longer durations for organ transplantation.
Shortly after the death of an organism, cells start to die and organs begin to fail. But now, a team of researchers at Yale University has developed a technology that can restore cellular activity even after death. This mind-boggling technology, called OrganEx, can be employed to initiate cell repair even in damaged organs. The researcher suggests that OrganEx could further lead to more effective organ transplantation methods and treatments for ischemia.
Ischemia is a condition that causes the death of tissues and cells in an organ due to reduced blood and oxygen supply. The severity of this disorder can be understood from the fact that myocardial ischemia (ischemia of the heart) is often considered the primary cause of heart failure in humans. During their study, the researchers at Yale were able to restore cellular activity in a pig that died due to cardiac arrest, within one hour of its death.
“Cells don't die right after death which basically opens up a possibility for intervention. With this study, we have shown that if properly intervened, cells don't have to die," one of the authors of the study and neuroscientist at Yale University, Zvonimir Vrselja, told IE.
How does OrganEx prevent cells from dying after death?
OrganEx is a reperfusion technology that involves the recirculation of oxygen and blood to cells and tissues so that they can remain functional even after a few hours of death. The OrganEx system is driven by two components - a perfusion device and a perfusate. The former simulates heart and lung function and pumps the latter throughout the body.
The perfusate is basically a liquid containing synthetic hemoglobin called Hemopure and numerous other molecules that prevent blood clotting and cell decay. Hemopure supplies oxygen to red blood cells and forces them to stay functional. To demonstrate the technique, the researchers gave anesthesia to a pig and then subjected it to a heart attack.
The pig eventually died due to cardiac arrest (without going through any pain and suffering). After one hour of its death, the researchers employed OrganEx technique. Within a span of six hours, the researchers noticed restored cellular and organ functions. "Under the microscope, it was difficult to tell the difference between a healthy organ and one which had been treated with OrganEx technology after death," wrote Dr. Vrselja in the research paper.
Interestingly, they also detected some electrical signals in the cardiovascular system which indicated that the pig heart could contract even after experiencing cardiac arrest and death.
OrganEx could be a life-saving technology
The pig experiment proved that OrganEx is an effective treatment strategy to restore cells and tissues in organs that suffer damage due to lack of blood and oxygen supply (ischemia). Moreover, using this method, cells and tissues can be preserved for longer durations even after death. The researchers further suggest that once the technology is successful on the organ level in humans, it could also be adopted for successful organ transplants over long distances.
“I think the technology has a great deal of promise for our ability to preserve organs after they are removed from the donor. You can take the organ from a deceased donor, hook it up to the perfusion technology and perhaps then be able to transport it long distance over a long period of time to get it to a recipient who needs it,” said Stephen Latham, one of the authors and Senior Research Scholar at Yale University.
However, OrganEx is not just limited to a single organ transplant, it has the potential to ensure the preservation of multiple body organs at once. The first author of the study and neuroscientist at Yale, David Andrijevic told IE, "In future studies, if we show that OrganEx is capable of achieving complete and adequate organ recovery, this approach could increase the organ donor pool by not only saving organs that would previously be discarded but also save multiple organs at once."
OrganEx is an advanced version of BrainEx, a method that previously allowed researchers to restore some cellular functions and molecular activities in a pig brain after death. The researchers now look forward to advancing OrganEx further so that it could be used to restore whole body functions in large mammals. They believe that although the method has been successful in pigs, more research is required before it can be tested on humans.
The study is published in the journal Nature.
After cessation of blood flow or similar ischaemic exposures, deleterious molecular cascades commence in mammalian cells, eventually leading to their death. Yet with targeted interventions, these processes can be mitigated or reversed, even minutes or hours post mortem, as also reported in the isolated porcine brain using BrainEx technology. To date, translating single-organ interventions to intact, whole-body applications remains hampered by circulatory and multisystem physiological challenges. Here we describe OrganEx, an adaptation of the BrainEx extracorporeal pulsatile-perfusion system and cytoprotective perfusate for porcine whole-body settings. After 1 h of warm ischaemia, OrganEx application preserved tissue integrity, decreased cell death and restored selected molecular and cellular processes across multiple vital organs. Commensurately, the single-nucleus transcriptomic analysis revealed organ- and cell-type-specific gene expression patterns that are reflective of specifc molecular and cellular repair processes. Our analysis comprises a comprehensive resource of cell-type-specifc changes during deined ischaemic intervals and perfusion interventions spanning multiple organs, and it reveals an underappreciated potential for cellular recovery after prolonged whole-body warm ischaemia in a large mammal.