It’s a Zombie Apo(r)calypse –
Reviving Cells from Prolonged Ischemia

Luc Puis

They say that some humans are pigs. While that might be a topic for another discussion, it goes without saying that a lot of our porcine friends are being used for the advancement of scientific research. Not all of it is useful, but here’s an eye-catcher.

A remarkable publication in nature, where scientists from Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, USA, were able to revive cells from different organs after prolonged ischemia using pigs that had been without circulation for one hour and then put on ECMO. They compared their self-made OrganEx extracorporeal system, primed with a special perfusate versus standard ECMO, and found that when using their own system, there was more sustained tissue integrity, less cell death across multiple vital organs, and a restoration of certain molecular and cellular processes.

Although the pigs were anticoagulated and kept warm during the ischemic period, this is a tremendous leap in the study of regeneration of cells and it opens the door to applications, such as the growth of the organ donor pool and the resuscitation of lost limbs.

The extracorporeal system that was used is called OrganEx, a pulsatile-perfusion system used together with a cytoprotective perfusate, that is specifically adapted to the pig’s body. The special solution contents are extensively described in the publication.

Another door opened by this experiment is that of ethical considerations. If we are able to revive organs with this system, is the brain then also resuscitated and are the pigs then actually dead? This could potentially affect the willingness to donate organs (by humans, not by pigs) in the future.

Although the findings are preliminary and the pigs did not live happily ever after, a huge step is taken that will require us to rethink what death and livability actually mean. It is an expansion of our comprehension of what the definition of life is. More particularly, it was observed that when at some point, contrast was injected into the experimental group, head and neck movements occurred, and there was no explanation for this phenomenon. 

The researchers concluded that their experiments will continue and expand, but “with rigorous ethical review from researchers, bioethicists and institutional boards.”

Hopefully, we will soon shed new light on what ischemia after a heart attack, stroke, or ventricular fibrillation really means and if we can expand the life of cells in a meaningful and qualitative manner.

Sources

Andrijevic, D., Vrselja, Z., Lysyy, T. et al. Cellular recovery after prolonged warm ischaemia of the whole body. Nature 608, 405–412 (2022). (Open Access)

Kolata G (2022) A ‘Reversible’ Form of Death? Scientists Revive Cells in Dead Pigs’ Organs. The New York Times

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