In Summary
  • Authors of the US-based study said their research could one day be used to help treat victims of heart attacks and strokes and unravel the mysteries of brain trauma.
  • In human and large mammal brains, cells crucial for neural function begin to degrade as soon as blood supply is cut -- a process long considered to be irreversible.

Scientists have managed to restore cell function in the brains of pigs hours after they died, in a breakthrough Wednesday that experts said threw into question the very notion of what makes animals -- or even humans -- alive.

Authors of the US-based study said their research could one day be used to help treat victims of heart attacks and strokes and unravel the mysteries of brain trauma.

In human and large mammal brains, cells crucial for neural function begin to degrade as soon as blood supply is cut -- a process long considered to be irreversible.

But the findings of the trial, published in the journal Nature, show that the brains of pigs can have their blood flow and cell function restored even hours after death.

TISSUE SUPPORT SYSTEM

The team from the NIH BRAIN initiative, a federally funded US research programme, used the brains of 32 pigs that had been slaughtered for food and discarded, without blood or glucose flow, for four hours each.
Then, using a tissue support system that pumps a liquid designed to mimic blood through organs, they rehydrated the brains for a further six hours.

Some brains received the patented life-support solution and others were given a control substance.

The results were astonishing: the brains that received the artificial blood had basic cell function restored.

Their blood vessel structure was revived, and the team even observed some localised processes -- including in synapses and immune responses -- flickering back to life.

Those that received the control solution turned within hours to what researchers described as "something a bit like yoghurt".

SURPRISED
"I was tremendously surprised," Nenad Sestan, a researcher at Yale University and lead study author told AFP.
"We were surprised how well the structure was preserved. We found that cell death is reduced, which is very exciting and promising.

"The main conceptual finding is this: cell death in the brain occurs across a longer time period than we previously thought," Sestan added.

The team stressed that they saw no "higher level functional activity" such as electric signalling associated with consciousness in the revived brains.

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