Day of the Undead

Paula LabrotBy Paula Labrot      October 28, 2022

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Day of the Undead
Do you remember in the movie “The Adams Family” when Fester takes the children outside to play “Raise the Dead?” Well, have I got a Halloween story for you! ​So, imagine Dr. Frankenstein working in his lab trying to create life out of old, dead body parts, a mixture of strange chemicals and a good old dose of electrocution. Now, fast forward to Yale University in 2018. Events occurred there that have blurred the definitions of what we mean by “alive” and “dead.” A new and very non-fictional scientist and his team have been opening portals to Death Reversal. ​Since 2018, Nenad Sestan, a Yale Professor of Neuroscience and member of the Kavali Institute for Neuroscience, has been astounding the scientific community with his research results. Two of his projects, BrainX and OrganX, are rocking our world. BrainX ​According to the Brain Research Foundation, “Nenad Sestan’s research has been concerned with molecular mechanisms involved in the formation of neural circuits in the cerebral cortex, a part of the brain that is critical for cognition, perception and behavior. His laboratory has also studied how these developmental mechanisms have evolved and become compromised in human disorders.” As a result, Fiona MacDonald reported for sciencealert.com, “Scientists from Yale University say they’ve successfully kept dismembered pig brains alive without their bodies for as long as 36 hours—an experiment that could redefine death as we know it.” ​Sestan’s team used a system of artificial blood, heaters, and pumps to restore circulation to the brains of pigs that had been decapitated around four hours earlier. The technique kept the reanimated organs alive for as long as 36 hours. Though there was no evidence the brains were conscious, Seston’s team found billions of healthy brain cells in good working order. The brains had no thought, feeling, or awareness, but the brain tissue was alive and functioning. No global electrical activity emerged in these studies, and researchers were ready with temperature reduction technologies and anesthetics to stop any such occurrence, because there are a lot of ethical considerations to process before anything like that can be allowed to happen. My kids won’t be communicating with my brain in a jar on their mantle any time soon, but no one knows where or how far this research will lead us. Then Sestan figured, if it works on the brain, how about the rest of the body’s organs. OrganX ​This last August, Yale research scientists announced they found a way to restore organ and cellular function in pigs an hour after death. The pigs had been lying dead in the lab for an hour — no blood circulating, their hearts still, their brain waves flat. When researchers injected a solution called OrganEx into their bodies, their hearts beat and organ cells started to function again. Tristan Manalac, writing for Biospace, reports, “Shortly after death, the heart stops beating and blood flow is cut off. Deprived of oxygen and other crucial nutrients, cells and tissues in the body undergo a complex chain of biochemical reactions, causing organs to malfunction, and ultimately resulting in their slow deterioration. However, using a novel (and proprietary) perfusion device to deliver an experimental but cell-protective fluid, Yale scientists have been able to restore important cellular functions to many different pig organs...” ​The data showed that after six hours of treatment, cellular activity returned to the liver, heart and kidneys. According to Manalac, the heart, in particular, displayed signs of electrical activity and was able to contract, effectively restoring blood circulation. “Under the microscope, it was difficult to tell the difference between a healthy organ and one which had been treated with OrganEx technology after death,” according to Zvonimir Vrselja, a researcher involved in the study. The researchers also observed twitching in the head and neck area, which they saw as a sign of possible motor function activity. (This is sounding more and more like a scene in a horror movie where the corpse suddenly sits up in the morgue.) Ramifications ​On the good side, it would be great to sustain viability in organs longer than we are able to now for organ transplants. Lots of people are on a lot of lists waiting for their chance at life, and, presently, the window of time for harvesting an organ is very short. We lose a lot of these precious life savers before they can be delivered to waiting patients. Also, by keeping brains and organs alive after death, researchers would be able to study them and their cellular functions to unravel the mysteries of cellular injury and disease. ​On the other hand, this development demands attention to the way death is defined by the medical field: The point at which the brain, heart and lungs cease to function. But Sestan’s cocktail seems to be able to restore cellular function. So, when is it really time to pull the plug on a loved one? What are the ethical considerations of experimenting on humans? There is a lot for medical ethicists to unpack. Day of the Un-Dead? ​Death Reversal has been a Holy Grail kind of search among humans forever. Are we getting close? It’s spooky. Right? Maybe Fester Adams should be working at Yale, too! ​Happy Halloween! ​Vamos a ver!
Paula Labrot
      October 28, 2022

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