Scientists Revive the Brain of a 'Zombie' Pig with 'Artificial Blood'

Has a Yale research team finally overcome death's irreversibility?

The brain of a decapitated pig was partially revived through a blood circulation system, developed by Yale scientists, known as BrainEX. While the brain was by no means brought back to consciousness it did bear living characteristics.

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The brains status, as precisely voiced by Zvonimir Vrselja, an associate research scientist in neuroscience, was as follows: “Clinically defined, this is not a living brain, but it is a cellularly active brain.” Vrselja goes on, “At no point did we observe the kind of organized electrical activity associated with perception, awareness, or consciousness.”

Nonetheless, the ability to activate brain function post-mortem should be recognized as a tremendous scientific breakthrough for the scientific community.

How does BrainEX function?

Using the brains of 6–8 month-old pigs, taken from a USDA regulated slaughterhouse in New Haven, the research team began tests 4 hours after death. 

Having sourced the brains, they then go about connecting the brain's vascular system to a pump like apparatus, which synthetically mirrors the natural circulation of blood, while using a specially developed solution developed to preserve brain tissue. 

As an academic paper, recently published, by the research team accounts, the finding was as follows: “Using this approach, we observed attenuation of cell death and preservation of anatomical and neural cell integrity. We also found that specific cellular functions were restored, as indicated by vascular and glial responsiveness to pharmacological and immunogenic interventions, spontaneous synaptic activity, and active cerebral metabolism in the absence of global brain activity.”

Counteracting the otherwise irreversible degeneration of brain function, BrainEX hence functions to maintain a number of vital functions without going so far as activating neural networks.

Ethical concerns?

A number of scientific commentators have raised ethical concerns about possible trauma that may be incurred in this partial rehabilitation of brain functions. However, the team seems to have taken all the necessary precautions. In the course of the experiment, the team was prepared to administer anesthesia if any unexpected brain activity was indicated. 

In addition, the scientists incorporated material in the circulating solution designed to block neural activity. As Stephen Latham, a co-author of the study and director of the Yale Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics, stated: “It was in fact never a goal—and even sort of the opposite of a goal—of the research to have consciousness restored.”

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Scientific applications?

Although it seems clear that no hope of full brain revival is on the table, for now, the new system, in allowing for a slow down of the otherwise rapid degeneration of brain function, provides a crucial window of opportunity for studies of the mammalian brain. 

With the support of BrainEX, researchers feel hopeful about getting closer to the roots of human brain disorders. As optimistically observed by Stefano G. Daniele, an M.D./Ph.D. Candidate: “Previously, we have only been able to study cells in the large mammalian brain under static or largely two-dimensional conditions utilizing small tissue samples outside of their native environment.” 

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Daniele goes on, “For the first time, we are able to investigate the large brain in three dimensions, which increases our ability to study complex cellular interactions and connectivity.”

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