Scientists partially revived a pig’s organs an hour after death.
The find was described as “truly remarkable” and experts said that if the technology could be applied to humans, it could lead to thousands of other organs becoming available for transplant, potentially saving thousands of lives.
One commenter even suggested that in the future, the technology could “bring people back to life many hours after death,” giving medical professionals the time they need to treat the underlying cause.
US researchers have developed a specially formulated cell protection fluid that appears to prevent cell and organ death for at least an hour.
After death, a series of biochemical events occur due to the lack of blood flow, oxygen and nutrients that lead to the destruction of the cells and organs of the body.
The damage was thought to be quick and irreversible, but the scientists found that when a new fluid called OrganEx was applied to pigs, circulation and other cellular functions could be restored within hours of death.
The Yale University researchers said that if this discovery is replicated in humans, it could potentially lead to a significant increase in the number of organs that can be used for transplantation.
In the UK alone, 429 people died while waiting for organ transplants last year.
The researchers did a similar experiment in 2019 on a pig’s brain, but now they’ve applied the technology to the entire body.
The technology consists of a heart-lung machine-like device that does the work of the heart and lungs during surgery, and an experimental fluid that contains compounds that can promote cell health and suppress inflammation throughout the pig’s body.
Writing in the journal Nature, the researchers stated that six hours after the OrganEx treatment, certain key cellular functions were active in many areas of the pig’s body, including the heart, liver and kidneys.
They also found that some organ functions were restored – for example, they found signs of electrical activity in the heart, which retained the ability to contract.
“We were also able to restore blood circulation throughout the body, which amazed us,” said Prof. Nenad Sestan.
By developing this organ preservation system (in humans), in the near future, physicians will be able to offer new treatments for preserving organs after death.Dr. Sam Parnia, New York University
Normally, when the heart stops beating, the organs begin to swell, destroying blood vessels and blocking circulation, he says.
But blood circulation was restored, and the organs of the dead pigs that received treatment turned out to be functional at the level of cells and tissues.
“Under a microscope, it was difficult to distinguish a healthy organ from an organ treated with OrganEx technology after death,” said junior researcher Zvonimir Wrselja.
The team also observed involuntary and spontaneous muscle movements in the head and neck region when evaluating treated animals, indicating that some motor function was retained.
In the future, the technology could potentially be used to extend organ life in human patients and increase the number of organ donors.
Commenting on the study, Dr. Sam Parnia of NYU Grossman School of Medicine said, “This is a truly remarkable and incredibly important study.
“This demonstrates that after death, cells in mammalian (including human) organs, such as the brain, do not die for many hours, this occurs in the post-mortem period.
“Hence, by developing this organ preservation system (in humans), in the near future, doctors will be able to offer new treatments for preserving organs after death.
“This will allow access to more organs for transplant, which will save thousands of lives every year.
“Perhaps equally important is the fact that the OrganEx method can be used to preserve organs in people who have died, but whose underlying cause of death remains treatable.
“Today, this includes athletes who die suddenly from heart disease, people who die from drowning, heart attacks, or massive bleeding after injuries such as car accidents.
“The OrganEx system can preserve the organs of such people and prevent brain damage in people for several hours after death. This will give doctors time to correct the underlying disease, such as a blockage in a blood vessel in the heart that led to a massive heart attack and death, or to repair a ruptured blood vessel that led to death from massive bleeding after injury, restore organ function and return such people to life many hours after death.
“Thus, otherwise healthy people, including athletes who die but whose cause of death is treatable at any point in time, can potentially be brought back to life, and if the cause of death is incurable, then their organs can be stored to annually give life to thousands of people.