Yale study: Pig research shakes up what we know about death – and offers new hope for transplants
Yale University researchers say they were able to restore blood flow and other cellular functions in pigs an hour after they died, suggesting cells aren’t dying as quickly as scientists had expected Assumed.
With more research, the cutting-edge technique could one day potentially help preserve human organs for longer – allowing more people to receive transplants.
The researchers used a system they developed, called OrganEx, which recirculates oxygen through the body of a dead pig, preserving cells and certain organs after cardiac arrest.
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“These cells are functioning hours later than they shouldn’t,” said study leader Dr. Nenad Sestan.
“And what that tells us is that the cells’ disappearance can be stopped. And their functionality restored in several vital organs – even an hour after death.
Sestan is the Harvey and Kate Cushing Professor of Neuroscience and Professor of Comparative Medicine, Genetics, and Psychiatry at Yale.
The research was published Wednesday in the scientific journal Nature, and immediately praised by independent experts who were not involved in the study.
“This is a truly remarkable and incredibly significant study,” said Dr. Sam Parnia, associate professor of critical care medicine at NYU Grossman School of Medicine and director of critical care and resuscitation research.
“This demonstrates that after death, cells in mammalian (including human) organs such as the brain do not die for several hours.
“It’s good in the post-mortem period.”
The OrganEx system pumps a liquid called perfusate, mixed with blood, into the blood vessels of dead pigs. Perfusate contains a synthetic form of the protein hemoglobin and several other compounds and molecules that help protect cells and prevent blood clots.
Six hours after treatment with OrganEx, the team found that certain key cellular functions were active in many areas of the pigs’ bodies, including the heart, liver and kidneys, and that certain organ functions had been restored.
It builds on research published by the same team in 2019 that used a similar experimental system called BrainEx that delivered artificial blood to the brains of pigs, preventing the breakdown of important neural functions.
How could the research be applied to humans?
Although the research is still at an extremely early and highly experimental stage, the researchers are hopeful that their work in pigs may eventually be applied to humans – primarily by developing ways to extend the window for transplants.
The current organ supply is extremely limited, with millions of people around the world waiting for transplants.
“I think the technology holds great promise for our ability to preserve organs after they are removed from a donor,” said Stephen Latham, director of the Yale Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics and co-author of the study.
“You could take the organ from a deceased donor and hook it up to infusion technology, and then maybe be able to transport it long distances over a long period of time to get it to a recipient who need it.”
The researchers made it clear that they were in no way bringing the pigs back to life and that more work was needed to understand if the organs were suitable for transplants.
“We couldn’t say that this study showed that any of the organs in this pig were…ready to be transplanted into another animal, we don’t know if they’re all working, what we’re looking at is that. is the cellular and metabolic levels,” Latham explained.
“And we’re a long way from being able to say, ‘Oh my God, we brought life back to not just that pig, but to any of the individual organs. We can’t tell yet. It’s still way too early.
In the Netherlands, Dr Robert J. Porte of the University Medical Center Groningen said in a paper published alongside the study that the research has the potential to lead to new treatment strategies for people with a heart attack or stroke.
“One would imagine that the OrganEx system (or its components) could be used to treat such people in an emergency,” said Porte, who was also not involved in the research.
“It should be noted, however, that further research will first be needed to confirm the safety of system components in specific clinical situations.”
Latham said such a possibility was still a long way off.
“This idea of hooking up (a) person who’s had an ischemic injury, you know, someone who’s drowned or had a heart attack, I think that’s pretty far off,” he said. .
“The much more promising potential short-term use here is the preservation of organs for transplantation.”
The researchers used up to 100 pigs, which were under anesthesia when the heart attack was induced.
The research also helps scientists better understand the dying process — something that’s relatively understudied, Sestan said.
“In the minutes after the heart stops, there’s a whole cascade of biochemical events triggered by a lack of blood flow, which is ischemia,” Sestan said.
“And what that leads (to) is that the oxygen and nutrients that the cells need to survive are cut off. And that starts destroying the cells.
“What we’ve shown…is that this progression to massive permanent cellular failure, which doesn’t happen so quickly that it can’t be prevented or possibly corrected.”
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