Scientists partially resuscitated the pig’s organs an hour after death.
The discovery has been described as “truly remarkable” and experts said if the technology could be applied to humans it could lead to thousands of more organs being made available for transplantation, potentially saving thousands of lives.
One commentator even suggested that in the future the technology has the potential to “bring people back to life many hours after death” by providing doctors with a crucial time to treat the underlying cause.
US researchers developed a specially designed cellular protective fluid that appeared to prevent cell and organ death for at least an hour.
After death, a series of biochemical events occur due to a lack of blood flow, oxygen and nutrients 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 following death.
Researchers at Yale University said that if the discovery were replicated in humans, it could potentially lead to a large expansion in the number of organs that can be used for transplantation.
In the UK alone, around 429 people died in anticipation of organ transplants last year.
Researchers performed a similar experiment in 2019 on a pig brain, but have now applied the technology to the whole body.
The technology consists of a device similar to 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 body of the pig.
Writing in the journal Nature, the researchers said that six hours after the OrganEx treatment, some key cellular functions were active in many areas of the pigs’ 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, which retained the ability to contract.
‘We were also able to restore circulation throughout the body, which amazed us,’ said Professor Nenad Sestan.
Normally, when the heart stops beating, the organs begin to swell, collapsing blood vessels and blocking circulation, he said.
But circulation was restored and the organs of the deceased pigs who received the treatment appeared functional at the cell and tissue level.
“Under the microscope, it was difficult to distinguish between a healthy organ and one that had been treated with OrganEx technology after death,” said associate researcher Zvonimir Vrselja.
The team also observed involuntary and spontaneous muscle movements in the head and neck areas when they evaluated the treated animals, which indicated the preservation of some motor functions.
In the future, the technology could potentially be used to extend the life of organs in human patients and lead to more organ donations.
Commenting on the study, Dr. Sam Parnia of New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine said, “This is a truly extraordinary and incredibly significant study.
“It shows that after death, cells in mammalian organs (including humans) such as the brain do not die for many hours, this is well in the post mortem period.
“Consequently, by developing this organ preservation system (in humans), doctors will in the near future be able to provide new treatments to preserve organs post mortem.
“This will allow access to many more organs for transplantation, which will lead to thousands of lives saved every year.
“Perhaps equally important is the fact that the OrganEx method can be used to preserve the organs of deceased people, but where the underlying cause of death remains treatable.
“Today, this would include athletes dying suddenly from a heart defect, people dying from drowning, heart attacks or massive bleeding after trauma such as traffic accidents.
“The OrganEx system can preserve these people’s organs and prevent brain damage for hours in people after death. This will provide doctors with time to correct the underlying condition, such as a blocked blood vessel in the heart that led to a severe heart attack and death, or to repair a torn blood vessel that led to death from massive bleeding after trauma. , restore organ function and bring these people back to life many hours after death.
“As such, otherwise healthy people, including athletes who die, but whose cause of death is curable at any given time, can potentially be brought back to life, and if the cause of death is not curable, their organs they can be preserved to give life to thousands of people every year ”.