In quest for immortality scientists keep pig's brain alive outside its body in breakthrough experiment
The work was described at a meeting held at the National Institutes of Health to investigate ethical issues arising as US neuroscience centers explore the limits of brain science.
Researchers have restored circulation to the brains of decapitated pigs and were able to keep the restarted organs functional for as long as 36 hours in a breakthrough step that could redefine natural death, reported Daily Mail.
This achievement enables experts to study functional brains in high detail while opening up a new possibility in the extension of life - the question is, are we closer to keeping human brains on life support outside the host body?
For the first time in a controversial new experiment, pig brains were kept alive outside their bodies for a significant amount of time.
Researchers revealed that in their experiment, the brains of several pigs survived a whopping 36 hours after the animals had been put down.
Such radical experiments may one day allow humans to achieve 'immortality' by attaching our minds to artificial physical systems after the death of our natural bodies. In a more achievable quest, it could pave the way for a revolutionary method to conduct brain transplants.
Dr. Nenad Sestan disclosed his methods in a meeting a meeting at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. He was the leader of the Yale University team that conducted the aforementioned experiments.
Experts successfully removed the brains of about 200 pigs and were able to resuscitate them while they were totally detached from the host body.
A closed-loop system that scientists are calling "BrainEx" allowed organs to be connected to it so that artificial oxygen-rich blood required to sustain blood could be pumped to key regions in the pig's anatomy.
Dr. Sestan said that the experiment's results were "mind-boggling" and "unexpected" after he found that the billions of cells in the brains were able to survive in a healthy manner.
According to a report in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Technology Review, Sestan told told the NIH that it could be possible to keep the brains alive for as long as desired and that future development could enable the restoration of awareness as well.
However, the doctor said that his team elected not to attempt either because "this is unchartered territory."
He also said that the chemicals added during the procedure in order to prevent swelling would most likely hinder maintaining consciousness indefinitely.
What this means is that using their current methods, the team might not be able to resuscitate brains that can still "think".
The brains that were operated on by the team were not alive or conscious, Dr. Sestan said.
"That animal brain is not aware of anything, I am very confident of that," he said, according to the technology review.
That being said, there have been experiments in the past that showed that it is possible to keep the brains of some mammals alive after it is detached from the body.
Back in 1928, researchers from the Soviet Union had employed the severed head of a dog in their experiment. By connecting key blood vessels to an artificial circulation machine, they were able to keep the canine brain partly alive.
Also, in 1993, a New York University researcher was able to keep the brain of a guinea pig alive in a special fluid for a significant number of days.
Having said that, the difference between the previous experiments and this one is that this is the first time that a pig brain has been kept alive outside the body. The Yale research has been submitted for publication in a scientific journal.
Why pigs? Because their brains have a huge resemblance in the way they function to human brains.
A brain researcher at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Dr. Steve Hyman, said that the brains used in the experiment were technically alive. Dr. Hyman was among those briefed on the results of the Yale experiment.
Hyman told Technology Review: "These brains may be damaged, but if the cells are alive, it's a living organ.
"It's at the extreme of technical know-how, but not that different from preserving a kidney.
"But despite the breakthrough, transplanting a brain into a new body is still 'not remotely possible," he added.