Pig brain lives outside corpse after beheading


EXCEPT: . . . Scientists have restored cellular function in 32 pig brains that had been dead for hours, opening up a new avenue in treating brain disease—and shaking our definition of brain death to its core. Announced on Wednesday in the journal Nature, researchers at the Yale University School of Medicine devised a system roughly analogous to a dialysis machine, called BrainEx, that restores circulation and oxygen flow to a dead brain. [...]

Yale neuroscientist Nenad Sestan [...] obtained the dismembered heads of 32 pigs that’d been murdered for meat that very day. ... Each pig brain was monitored on BrainEx for a period of six hours. During that time, researchers found that brain cells and neurons had “restarted normal metabolic functions”. That includes producing carbon dioxide and consuming sugar. Researchers also found that individual neurons could still carry a signal through electrical current.

The question “what is alive” is tricky – in a big way because the most obvious answer is “that which is not dead”. If we’re talking about Game of Thrones and the Greyjoy family, we get even trickier.

If we can agree that “life” means having biological processes, either signaling or self-sustaining (or hopefully both), these pig brains might well have been alive, if only for a short time. But they weren’t self-sustaining – and they weren’t particularly animate.

[...] “This paper throws a hand grenade into the middle of what the common beliefs are,” said Lance Becker, an emergency-medicine specialist at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset, New York. “We may have vastly underestimated the ability of the brain to recover.” For more information on this subject, head over to the research paper “Restoration of brain circulation and cellular functions hours post-mortem” in Nature. (MORE)

[...] The BrainEx team is acutely aware of the ethical implications of its work, which is why they have consulted with leading neuroscientists and ethicists for years. The Neuroethics Working Group, a consortium convened by the U.S. National Institutes of Health's BRAIN Initiative, which funded the research, has been consulting with Sestan since 2016. The researchers also presented their work at a 2017 bioethics conference at Duke University and at a 2018 NIH workshop.

“Cutting-edge science needs cutting-edge ethics,” says Ramos, who serves as the Neuroethics Working Group's executive secretary. “There is an existing, robust framework of laws and policies that our funded researchers are expected to follow, but the development and application of new neuro-technologies may require us to examine those ethical standards, and for those standards to evolve.” (MORE)

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