Scientists Restore Pig Organs After Their Heart Stop

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Courtesy of Joshua Berry (PDM)

It is no secret that once a heart stops beating the grim reaper is not far behind. However, scientists may be one step closer to deterring the death of all organs once the blood flow stops. Recently, researchers have developed a way to restore function in pig organs one hour after the animal’s hearts stop beating.

For years, experts believed that once a heart flatlines, and blood flows stop delivering nutrients and oxygens to the organs, which results in irreparable cell death and damage to vital organs. Scientists now believe that may not be completely true.

In 2019, Professor Nenad Sestan at Yale University along with his colleagues announced an approach to restore some degree of abilities to cells in pig brains up to six hours after they die. The team said by pumping a form of cryoprotective perfusate — synthetic blood — through the animal’s blood vessels.

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Courtesy of Nico (Flickr CC0)

The synthetic blood not only delivered nutrients and oxygen, but it also contained substances and drugs that prevented blood clots while protecting the cells against injury. The data showed that though the pig brain did not have consciousness there was enough proof that the irreparable cell damage death causes may not be so irreparable.

The same team of scientists has been able to achieve a similar feat with other pig organs. They updated their device, OrganEx, which was able to restore circulation and improve the function of the cells in the liver, kidney, heart, and brain of pigs that had heart attacks and died an hour prior. The device was also able to activate programs involved in cellular repair.

Their research published in Nature highlighted how little was known about what really happens after one’s heart stops beating. The data showed the cells continued to function “hours after they should not be. What [this] tells us is that the demise of cells can be halted and their functionality restored in multiple vital organs, even one hour after death,” said Sestan.

He continued on by saying their research opened “the door for future transplantation studies and possible treatments for ischemic damage [where blood flow to vital organs is disrupted].”

At this time the best way to restore nutrients and oxygen to deprived tissues and organs is through extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO). This is where blood is pumped through a machine to remove carbon dioxide and send oxygen-rich blood back into the body.

Sestan’s team evaluated organs from pigs that had undergone extracorporeal membrane oxygenation one hour after their hearts stopped beating. They found that numerous of the smaller vessels that supplied the tissues with oxygen had collapsed. The organs that underwent treatment from the OrganEx seem to have less damage. They even discovered there were signs of repair in the kidneys.

Dr. Sam Parnia, associate professor of critical care medicine at New York University Grossman School of Medicine, who was not involved in the research, said the OrganEx developed by Sestan and his colleagues ” is a truly remarkable and incredibly significant study.” The team’s work “demonstrates that after death, cells in mammalian organs (including humans) such as the brain do not die for many hours – well into the postmortem period.”

It is possible that someday down the road the OrganEx could help physicians provide novel treatment to preserve organs postmortem. However, for now, Sestan’s team will continue to experiment on animals before it is ever tested on humans.

Written by Sheena Robertson

Sources:

The Guardian: Restoration of pig organs after heart stopped raises hopes for transplants
Nature: Cellular recovery after prolonged warm ischaemia of the whole body
Forbes: Scientists Partially Revived Pig Organs An Hour After Death In ‘Stunning’ New Research

Top and Featured Image Courtesy of Joshua Berry‘s Flickr Page – Public Domain License
Inset Image Courtesy of Nico’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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