Recent studies on pigs have shown some surprising results. After the pig had been dead for an hour, organs in the pig were revived by restoring circulation. Even cellular activity began to take place again. These results, which were reported in the magazine Nature, indicate that there is now an uncertain line as to when death actually occurs.
In 2019, researchers used a similar method to determine if a pig’s brain would function again after being dead for four hours. They discovered that some parts of the brain began to function again – but not all of them.
The first experiment surprised researchers because it was previously thought that the cells in the brain died almost immediately after death. They found out that their thinking in this regard was wrong. Cells – at least some of them – do not die immediately, and they do not die at the same time.
The earlier results led other researchers at Yale to want to try a second experiment. They wanted to know if other organs could also be revived after death.
As before, the researchers used a special chemical mix called OrganEx to reoxygenate the body one hour after the pig had died. The pigs (the experiment used 100 pigs) died from cardiac death.
The first organ they observed was that the heart had begun contracting again. Electricity in the heart was being produced, and contractions were evident. It showed that the life of cells was prolonged – and a degree of recovery had been obtained.
Although the heart was beating in one experiment, the researchers did have a disclaimer. They said that it did not mean that the heart – or other organs –functioned normally.
Since the research in this area is new, scientists are apt to discover several benefits over time. One benefit, the article mentions, is that stroke and heart attack victims may be able to recover damaged tissue.
Organs that are donated can also benefit from this discovery. The liquid used – OrganEx – to help revive pig cells in the various organs could help human organs stay strong and healthy after removal from a donor body. More time can be given before it becomes too late to remove the organs – which normally begin to die shortly after removal.
This experimentation also raises some ethical questions. Knowing exactly at what point death occurs may be questioned as a result of this research. New questions are being asked. For instance, if someone is declared brain dead – can their brain be revived?
Studies such as this are also likely to be used to extend life because organs can be revived at a later time than thought earlier. Organs from donor bodies may be made available much later than the initial few minutes after death now thought to be the limit.
Because they can be revived, more organs can be made available for more people in need of transplants. Distance and time are not so much a serious factor because the organs can be to some degree refreshed along the way with this new system.
Although the early research offers no clear promises yet, there certainly is potential. Years of research are necessary before this technique will ever be used on humans. Someday, the system may be used to increase longevity and help enable healthier lives during the senior years.