Scientists restore some functions of pig tissue 1 hour after death

News Photo: Scientists restore some functions of pig tissue 1 hour after deathBy Dennis Thompson Health Day Reporter

WEDNESDAY, August 3, 2022 (HealthDay News)

Minutes after a heartbeat stops, a massive series of disastrous events triggered by a lack of blood flow begins destroying cells and organs in the body.

This chain of events had been considered inevitable and irreversible. Now, a new animal study shows that cardiac death doesn’t have to mean the rapid end of the rest of the body.

Researchers restored blood flow and other cellular functions in the bodies of dead pigs for a full hour, using a new cocktail of drugs designed to reverse the various catastrophic effects that accompany loss of blood flow.

“Specifically, we restored certain functions of cells in several vital organs that would have died without our intervention,” said lead researcher Dr. Nenad Sestan, professor of neuroscience at Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, in Connecticut. “These cells are functioning hours later than they shouldn’t be, and what this tells us is that cell demise can be halted and their functionality restored in several vital organs, even one hour after dead.

Still, it’s not quite raising the dead.

The process didn’t create the kind of organized electrical activity in the pigs’ brains that would indicate consciousness. It also did not repair all of the organ damage that occurred at that time of death, the researchers reported Aug. 3 in the journal Nature.

But the researchers believe their technology would be a huge step forward in preserving individual organs for transplantation and expanding the availability of donor organs.

“Within minutes of the heart stopping, there’s a whole cascade of biochemical events triggered by a lack of blood flow,” said co-investigator Dr. Zvonimir Vrselja, associate neuroscientist at Yale. “The oxygen and nutrients that cells need to survive are cut off, and it starts to destroy cells.”

“What we’ve shown is that this progression to massive permanent cell failure and death doesn’t happen so quickly that it can’t be avoided or possibly corrected,” Vrselja noted at a press briefing. tuesday.

The technology, called OrganEx, consists of a cocktail of 13 different drugs aimed at reversing most of these events that occur after heart failure, Vrselja said.

The cocktail includes blood thinners to restore blood vessel function, drugs that prevent cell death, and anti-inflammatories to limit tissue damage caused by an immune system responding to the body’s death, Vrselja explained.

OrganEx also includes a pumping system designed to restore and maintain blood flow while adding the drug cocktail to the bloodstream.

“When the heart stops beating, the organs begin to swell, collapsing blood vessels and blocking circulation,” Vrselja said. “We had to develop an infusion system that could circumvent this. Basically, all of the technology is like ECMO on steroids, allowing us to open blood flow throughout the body.

For the study, the pigs were sedated and anesthetized, then induced into fatal cardiac arrest. After one hour at room temperature, they were then placed on the OrganEx system.

Six hours after treatment with OrganEx, the researchers found that key cellular functions were active in the heart, liver and kidneys of the pigs, and some organ functions had been restored.

For example, the heart showed signs of electrical activity and retained its ability to contract. The researchers also observed organ- and cell-specific gene expression patterns that indicated ongoing repair processes in the resurrected body.

The researchers compared the results of OrganEx with pigs treated with ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation system). ECMO is used in hospitals to keep the blood oxygenated; it is a common life-saving treatment in critically ill patients with COVID-19.

Organs from the bodies of pigs treated with OrganEx showed fewer signs of bleeding or swelling than those put on ECMO, the results showed.

The new study builds on previous Yale research that restored circulation and certain cellular functions in the brain of a dead pig, using a technology then called BrainEx. The new study modified BrainEx so it could be used to restore circulation and cell function throughout the body.

The researchers did not perform this full-body test as a way to potentially preserve organs inside a body for transplant, they noted.

Instead, this experiment was designed to show that the OrganEx technology “would work its remarkable effects on a range of organs, and it’s easier to show that at the same time,” co-investigator Stephen Latham, director of the Yale Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics, said at the press conference.

“The long-term goal would not be to preserve the organs of a body,” Latham continued. “If it were to be applied clinically, I think it would be done organ by organ.”


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Latham gave the example of a newborn with a twisted intestine who needed a transplant to be able to digest food.

“This technology could allow a donor organ to be transported across the country for several hours without damage,” Latham said.

The technology could also be used to minimize organ or tissue damage in a living person who has suffered a heart attack or stroke, the study authors added.

“It’s not that it could ever be applied to a human being who had a heart attack or drowned and therefore suffered ischemic damage. It’s just that to do that would take a lot more experimentation,” Latham said.

“Organ retrieval and sustaining organs for transplantation is, I think, a much closer and much more realistic clinical goal that could be based on this study. Still, there is still a lot of work to be done there,” Latham added.

More information

The Mayo Clinic has more on ECMO.

SOURCES: Nenad Sestan, MD, PhD, professor, neuroscience, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut; Zvonimir Vrselja, MD, PhD, research associate, neuroscience, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn. ; Stephen Latham, JD, PhD, director, Yale Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics, New Haven, Conn. ; NatureAugust 3, 2022

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