As the animal dies, its inability to continue circulating blood and oxygen causes a flood of internal problems that destroy the cells and organs of its body. Although this destruction has historically been a rapid process, scientists say it need not be happening at such a rapid rate.
According to recent studies in Nature, researchers have developed a technology that pumps protective fluids capable of restoring circulation and some critical cell and organ functions into the bodies of deceased pigs. If further developed, the technology could have a huge impact on the field of human health.
Although loss of circulation and destruction of cells and organs inevitably occurs after death, scientists have always wondered about their ability to delay the inevitable.
“Not all cells die immediately. There’s a longer chain of events,” says David Andrievich, study author and neuroscience researcher at Yale School of Medicine, in press release. “It’s a process where you can intervene, stop and restore some cellular functions.”
Upgrade to a past car which treats the brains of deceased pigs, a team of researchers created a modified version of the technology to restore blood circulation as well as certain cell and organ functions throughout the pig’s body. This recovery, the researchers say, shows serious promise for maintaining human organs through surgery and increasing their availability and viability for transplant in the future. The technology could also help treat organ damage, the researchers added.
Called “OrganEx,” the new technology acts as a sort of perfusion machine. It fills important organs and pumps specialized fluids that support the function of cells and organs throughout the body.
To test the machine, the team induced cardiac arrest in anesthetized pigs. One hour after they died, the researchers began treating the animals with OrganEx, and after six hours of treatment, the researchers found that blood circulation and some cell and organ functions had returned in several areas of the pigs’ bodies. This includes their brains and hearts, the latter of which can still beat.
“Under the microscope, it was difficult to tell the difference between a healthy organ and one that had been treated with OrganEx technology after death,” said Zvonimir Varselja, another study author and a neurology researcher at Yale School of Medicine.
More than the partial recovery of cell and organ function, the researchers also observed sudden muscle movements around the pigs’ heads and necks. Although these animals remained unconscious and anesthetized throughout the experiment, these movements indicated that the bodies retained the ability to move.
The researchers say further research is needed to understand the extent of restored functionality in the pigs’ cells and organs. They also say that rigorous reviews are needed to ensure the ethics of further research.
“There are numerous potential applications for this exciting new technology,” says Stephen Latham, director of Yale’s Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics. “However, we must maintain close supervision of all future studies, especially any involving brain perfusion.”