Researchers Restore Signs of Life to Pig Brains in New Study


Scientists have detected nerve cell activity in dead pig brains. They bathed the pig brain material in an artificial fluid after the animal’s death, and 4 hours later, there found signs of cellular life. Such a restoration of life is unprecedented.

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Running the Experiments

In the experiments, the pigs used were slaughtered in a food processing plant. They were for pork and were not killed specifically for the study. After slaughter, 300 pig heads were placed on ice and taken to Yale University. Scientists at a Yale laboratory carefully removed the brains and put 32 of them in BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial system designed with a blood-like fluid that is pumped through the blood vessels. Nutrients and oxygen are provided, and the system is kept at body temperature to mimic conditions in the body.

Challenging Neuroscience Beliefs

The results of using a complex system of artificial fluid on the pig brains challenge neuroscience beliefs. It is a major breakthrough because it goes against the idea that brain function is lost irreversibly at death.

The research is reported in a recent issue of Nature. There are many implications of the findings. Injuries and stroke lead to starving the brain’s tissue of oxygen resulting in oftentimes permanent brain damage. With the new insights, there could be new and better ways to treat brain damage.

Nita Farahany is an ethicist and legal scholar at Duke University. He was not involved in the study, but he was co-authored a perspective piece in Nature. He points out the gray zone between life and death for animal tissue. The study showed that, while neural cells were still active, the brain as a whole did not have the widespread cellular activity to be considered alive and conscious. This is another debatable issue resulting from this study. The ethics of using brain tissue for research given the complex mix of having partially alive and partially dead brain tissue is brought into question.

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