An interesting collision of science news and religious holy days took place this past week.
While the Christian world got ready to observe Easter, remembering how Jesus was executed and then resurrected, the world of Science was announcing the cellular reanimation of hours-dead pig brains. (Nature, MedicalExpress)
Nothing divine was going on with the reanimated pig brains – the researchers were just checking a hunch. They have been working with tissue taken from brains, dead ones of course. The fact that the tissue is from dead animals and is isolated in 2D sheets instead of in a 3D matrix of neural tissue, like it normally is, presents problems. Such as: How do you know the results aren’t being affected in some way by these limitations? Are the results from studies applicable to living specimens?
To further complicate studies dead tissue has biochemical processes happening that change the very things being studied in a short time. It was inevitable that compounds would be developed to perfuse the tissue to try to maintain some semblance of the chemical environment that the tissue was in while still in a living creature. The blood replacement they used in this particular lab they call BrainEx (for Ex Vivo).
What they noticed was that even after hours of being ‘dead’ the tissue showed signs of cellular viability. So they devised a simple test – through a hog processing company they got access to a few heads from recently killed pigs. After extracting the brains they perfused them with the Brainex solution. And what they found has many many people wondering . . . neural cellular integrity was preserved, some neuronal, glial, and vascular cellular functionality was restored.
They didn’t see any evidence of global, coordinated neural activity so while the parts might have limited restored functionality the brain itself wasn’t switched back on in any real sense. But this is just a first step . . . who knows where it might lead? Just like in the old Brer Rabbit story I’m guessing it will become a tarbaby that will lead us into a philosophical and ethical thorny briar patch. (and I just mentioned the issues around using that term in a recent post)
Some of the easy ones to predict are: when can we say the creature is really dead? Or a human? For those jurisdictions that use brain death as a determining factor – will they revised ‘when’ that can be said to take place with finality? What about the stock in cryogenic-suspension companies that only preserve the head – will that go up? What does Dead really mean? I’m sure others will come up with more.
So while all the wannabe Doctor Frankensteins of the world have some hope . . . I’m wondering if next Easter some people will be replacing that Bunny with a Piggy. After all this aspect has nothing seriously connecting it with the religious event (and is likely pagan inspired) and neither animal lays eggs.