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Scientists revive cells in dead pigs' organs

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The pigs had been lying dead in the lab for an hour. No blood was circulating in their bodies; their hearts were still, their brain waves flat. Then a group of Yale scientists pumped a custom made solution into the dead pigs’ bodies with a device similar to a heart-lung machine. What happened next adds questions to what science considers the wall between life and death.

Although the pigs were not considered conscious in any way, their seemingly dead cells revived. Their hearts began to beat as the solution, which the scientists called OrganEx, circulated in vein s and arteries. Cells in their organs, including the heart, liver, kidneys and brain, were functioning again, and the animals never got stiff like a typical dead pig.

Other pigs, dead for an hour, were treated with ECMO , a machine that pumped blood through their bodies. They became stiff, their organs swelled and became damaged, their blood vessels collapsed, and they had purple spots o n their backs where blood pooled. The group reported its results Wednesday in Nature .

The researchers say their goals are to one day increase the supply of human organs for transplant by allowing doctors to obtain viable organs long after death. And, they say, they hope their technology might also be used to prevent severe damage to hearts after a devastating heart attack or bra ins after a major stroke. But the findings are just a first step, said Stephen Latham, a bioethicist at Yale University who worked closely with the group. The technology, he emphasised, is “very far away from use in humans. ”

The work began a few years ago when the group did a similar experiment with brains from dead pigs from a slaughterhouse. Four hours after the pigs died, the gr oup infused a solution similar to OrganEx that they called BrainEx and saw that brain cells that should be dead could be revived. That led them to ask if they could revive an entire body, said Dr Zvonimir Vrselja , another member of the Yale team.

The OrganEx solution contained nutrients, anti-inflammatory medications, drugs to prevent cell death, nerve blocker s — substances that dampen the activity of neurons and prevented any possibility of the pigs regaining consciousness — and an artificial hemoglobin mixed with each animal’s own blood. Yale has filed for a patent on the technology.

The next step, scientists said, will be to see if the organs function properly and could be successfully transplanted. Sometime after that, the researchers hope to test whether the method can repair damaged hearts or brains.

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