How Scientists Revived Organs in Pigs an Hour After They Died
Published in Oxygen, Tech News.
Oxygen is the elixir of life. Stop its flow—during a stroke, heart attack, or death—and the body’s tissues respond in a biological storm that eventually leads to their death.
It’s not great for organ transplants. Most donated organs struggle to survive beyond death. Deprived of oxygen, they rapidly lose their function. Cells turn into acidic, bloated blobs that leak, injuring their neighbors. The immune system ramps up, pumping out a deadly concoction of hormones and immune chemicals that send the brain and immune system into hyperdrive, damaging most organs in the process. In other words, once death sets in, there’s no turning back.
Or is there?
A new study in Nature suggests there might be. Using an external circulation system, a team of scientists partially revived organs in pigs hours after their deaths. The system, dubbed OrganEx, works like an alternative circulatory system. Instead of blood, it pumps a synthetic substitute to trick the body into thinking it’s still somewhat alive.
To be clear, the scientists didn’t make porcine zombies. Although the blood replacement recipe helped to preserve some brain tissue, it didn’t reactivate any coordinated electrical activity in neurons. In other words, it’s extremely unlikely that the pigs regained any consciousness during the procedure. But other bodily organs did get a potential boost for a second life. Cells in the heart, liver, and kidneys repaired themselves based on multiple molecular analyses.
The goal isn’t to build a new-age Frankenstein. Rather, it’s to help with the current organ transplant shortage and health emergencies caused by constricted blood flow. “The achievement points to ways to improve transplants and the treatment of strokes and heart attacks,” wrote Dr. Robert Porte at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, who was not involved in the study.