Scientists have partially revived pig organs an hour after death.
The finding has been described as “truly remarkable” and experts said that if the technology could be applied to humans, it could result in thousands more organs being made available for transplant – potentially saving thousands of lives.
One commenter even suggested that in the future the technology has the potential to “bring people back to life many hours after death” by buying medical professionals the crucial time to treat the underlying cause.
Researchers from the US developed a specially designed cell protection fluid that appeared to prevent cell and organ death for at least an hour.
After death, due to a lack of blood flow, oxygen and nutrients, a series of biochemical events occur that lead to the destruction of the body’s cells and organs.
The damage was thought to be rapid and permanent, but scientists found that when the new fluid called OrganEx was applied to pigs, blood circulation and other cellular functions could be restored in the hours after death.
The Yale University researchers said that if the finding were replicated in humans, it could potentially lead to a large expansion in the number of organs that can be used for transplants.
In the UK alone, around 429 people died while waiting for an organ transplant last year.
Researchers conducted a similar experiment on a pig brain in 2019, but now they’ve applied the technology to the whole body.
The technology consists of a device that resembles heart-lung machines – which do the work of the heart and lungs during surgery – and the experimental fluid, which contains compounds that can promote cellular health and suppress inflammation throughout the pig’s body.
The researchers wrote in the journal Nature that six hours after treatment with OrganEx, 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 had been restored – for example, they found evidence of electrical activity in the heart that retained the ability to contract.
“We were also able to restore blood flow throughout the body, which amazed us,” said Professor Nenad Sestan.
Normally, when the heart stops beating, organs begin to swell, blood vessels collapse and block circulation, he said.
But circulation was restored and the organs of the deceased pigs receiving the treatment appeared to be functional at the cellular and tissue level.
“Under the microscope, it was difficult to see the difference between a healthy organ and an organ that had been treated with OrganEx technology after death,” said Associate Research Scientist Zvonimir Vrselja.
The team also observed involuntary and spontaneous muscle movements in the head and neck when examining the treated animals, suggesting preservation of some motor functions.
In the future, the technology could potentially be used to extend the lifespan of organs in human patients and lead to more organ donation.
dr Commenting on the study, Sam Parnia of the New York University Grossman School of Medicine said: “This is a truly remarkable and incredibly important study.
“It shows that cells in mammalian (including human) organs like the brain do not die for many hours after death, that is well into the post-mortem period.
“Consequently, by developing this system of organ preservation (in humans) in the near future, physicians will be able to provide novel postmortem organ preservation treatments.
“This will allow access to many more organs for transplantation, which will save thousands of lives every year.
“Perhaps just as important is the fact that the OrganEx method can be used to preserve organs in those who have died but where the underlying cause of death is treatable.
“Today this includes athletes who die suddenly from a heart defect, people who die from drowning, heart attacks or massive bleeding from trauma such as car accidents.
“The OrganEx system can preserve the organs of such people and prevent brain damage for hours after death. This will give doctors time to repair the underlying condition, such as a blocked blood vessel in the heart that led to a massive heart attack and death, or a ruptured blood vessel that caused death through massive bleeding after trauma organ function and bring such people back to life many hours after death.
“As such, otherwise healthy people, including athletes, who die but whose cause of death is treatable at some point can potentially be brought back to life, and if the cause of death is untreatable, their organs can be preserved, by thousands every year of giving life to people.”