OK So What's The Deal With The Pig Brain Coming Back To Life?
Researchers have managed to restore the function of cells in dead pigs' brains using a circulation of artificial liquid
So, does this mean that we're closer than ever to bringing people back from the dead or producing zombies?
The world-first research, conducted by scientists from Yale University, found that by pulsing a liquid perfusion through the brain known as BrainEx at an average body temperature and mimicking normal blood flow through the brain, some of the brain's cell activities were restored.
Cells in the pig brains showed renewed metabolism and there was also evidence of continued ability for synaptic activity (electrical communication between neurons).
The 32 pig brains used in the experiment were tested four hours after death, and the scientists managed to maintain this renewed cell function for six hours using their BrainEx system.
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The perfusion system also prevented cells from dying, stopping the decomposition of the dead brain.
The authors claim they have "encouraging evidence that brings into question the time-course and cessation of molecular and cellular brain functions following prolonged circulatory arrest."
Or -- in layman's terms -- the research has proved some cells can be revived even after they have been deprived of blood flow for a few hours.
The researchers stress this study doesn't yet show it's possible to restore cell function throughout the entire brain, and the cells that were reanimated into metabolic activity were not communicating.
There is a distinct difference between recovery of neurophysiological activity and neurological activity.
The former refers to the brain and its various functions continuing and the latter refers to individual or localised bundles of neurons resuming function. You can't say a global company is open for business if there are just a few guys sitting at their desks somewhere.
Professor Bryce Vissel, director of Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine at the University of Technology, Sydney told 10 daily the study was interesting but raises more questions than it answered.
"This study shows that it's possible to recover some basic nerve cell functions at the local level in some brain regions but it hasn't restored what we would regard as the normal brain waves for consciousness," Vissel said.
This is not a case of a brain coming back to life -- although the scientists were allegedly prepared with anaesthetic to stop the brains' activities on the off-chance that this did happen, because restoring consciousness to an isolated brain would have been extraordinarily cruel.
Vissel stresses that people shouldn't be concerned that the brain holds any consciousness after death that doctors can't recognise -- "Of course people have a fear of death and to believe that you are able to be revived would scare most people, I think".
Is this the first time scientists have restored brain cells to function?
It's the first time neuroscience researchers have seen an effect to this degree but Vissel noted the study also may not be entirely surprising to neurologists -- they have been aware for years that areas of the brain blocked off from blood supply by clots during stroke can be recovered if the clot is removed within four hours.
In addition to this, there are reports that humans can show full brain recovery after suffering from hypothermia where their hearts have slowed to the point that they are no longer contracting and pumping blood.
So, what does this mean really?
Dr Andrea Beckel-Mitchener, one of the study's authors, said the research indicates exciting new possibilities for brain damage research. She claimed it could "stimulate research to develop interventions that promote brain recovery after loss of brain blood flow, such as during a heart attack."
The research also suggests neuroscientists may be able to study connections and cells in dead brains in a much more complex way than they can through current techniques.
However, the Yale scientists stress there are many complicated ethical questions with research like this, and they will be working "thoughtfully and provactively" to navigate problems as they continue their research.
For those who may be concerned, the pigs' brains used in the experiment were collected from a slaughterhouse and would have been discarded otherwise.