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Extreme science: the brain continued to live independently without a body


Will the latest research soon increase our life expectancy?

For the first time, scientists have managed to keep a pig's brain alive for 36 hours without the body. In addition to admiration and attention, the researchers also received a lot of criticism. The ethical concern is great. Still, if such a process worked with human brains, it could open up new ways of extending life expectancy.

In their current study, scientists from internationally renowned Yale University have successfully kept pigs' brains alive without their bodies for up to 36 hours. An ethically extremely critical project, but at the same time it shows the possibilities of modern medicine.

Brain has been technically revived

For the study, the experts carried out tests on between 100 and 200 pigs from a slaughterhouse. With the help of a system of artificial blood, heaters and pumps, the team was able to restore the brain circulation of pigs that had been decapitated about four hours earlier. The technology used kept the revived brains alive for up to 36 hours. While there was no evidence that these brains were conscious, so-called EEG scans showed that the brains triggered a flat brain wave, similar to an unresponsive, comatose brain, the study authors explain.

The scientists found that billions of individual brain cells in the brains were healthy and capable of normal activity. At least in a simplifying sense, the organ was technically revived. The technical process actually resembles the preservation of a kidney, the experts explain to MIT Technology Review.

Results have not yet been published in a peer review journal

One caveat with the results of the current research work is that the doctors have not yet published them in a peer review journal. But they have already submitted the results of the study and the study authors stated that they were not prepared to publish further details about the experiment until full publication is available.

Research leads to ethical debates

Since the beginning of the year there has been a growing group of scientists and medical professionals who are discussing the Yale University project. In addition to opening ethical debates about whether similarly treated human brains should be considered alive, research would have advantages for further laboratory testing. Experts could examine intact and healthy brains.

Why was the experiment carried out?

The technique was developed to construct a comprehensive atlas of connections between human brain cells. The results should also help to develop better models or possibly even disassembled test organs for diseases such as Alzheimer's and brain tumors.

Process is similar to a transplant

But how does the process actually work? Unfortunately, the information available so far about the experiment is still very small. Apparently, the brain is connected to a closed circuit of tubes that allow heated artificial blood to circulate through the brain's vessels so that oxygen can even flow to cells deep in the brain. This is similar to the way scientists preserve other organs (such as the heart or lungs) for transplants.

A suitable framework for future research must be created

This week, an editorial was published in the journal "Nature", in which the authors argue that we need new rules and protective mechanisms for experiments on human brains. However, the difficult ethical discussion should not lead to the fact that investigations on this topic will be stopped, the scientists explain. In order to ensure the long-term success and social acceptance of this research, the experts must now create an appropriate ethical framework. (as)

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