Medical science is nowhere near overcoming death, but it might be closer to delaying harm in dying and seriously damaged organs. The New York Timesreports that Yale University researchers successfully revived cells in the organs of pigs that had been dead in the lab for an hour. Hearts started beating, and the pigs’ bodies didn’t stiffen like they normally would.
The team mixed the animals’ blood and an artificial hemoglobin with OrganEx, a solution that includes anti-inflammatory medicine, nerve blockers (to prevent a return to consciousness), nutrients and drugs that fight cell death. The project is a follow-up to a years-old breakthrough where the scientists revived dead pigs’ brain cells using a precursor solution, BrainEx. After that finding, the group wondered if it could revive an entire body.
The work isn’t close to helping human patients. Further studies will show if the organs are functioning. Researchers will also have to gauge the effects of OrganEx without nerve blockers, and eventually test their work on humans. There are ethical concerns that pigs might regain brain function, and it’s not clear just when it would be viable to experiment with people. If synthetic blood isn’t yet ready for emergency rooms, this is even further away.
The ramifications could be huge if and when solutions like OrganEx are suitable for humans, though. They could extend the viability of organ transplants — it might be possible to collect healthy organs long after the moment of death. That, in turn, could make more transplants available and save additional lives. The technology could also limit the damage to organs after serious heart attacks and strokes. Ideally, this will give people a fighting chance to recover from potentially fatal conditions.