Scientists have “somewhat revived” brains of dead pigs following them being killed in a slaughterhouse, although they are “careful to say that none of the brains regained the kind of organized electrical activity associated with consciousness or awareness.”
As reported by NPR, the experiment was described in the journal Nature and it showed that a “surprising amount of cellular function was either preserved or restored” in the brains of the deceased pigs.
“It was mind-blowing,” says Nita Farahany, who studies the ethics of emerging technologies at Duke Law School. “My initial reaction was pretty shocked. It’s a groundbreaking discovery, but it also really fundamentally changes a lot of what the existing beliefs are in neuroscience about the irreversible loss of brain function once there is deprivation of oxygen to the brain.”
The scientists involved in this study have spent the past six years developing a technique that would supply the brain with oxygen, nutrients and various other cell-protective chemicals and while it was a “shot-in-the-dark project,” they were determined to see it through.
The final version of their technology, called BrainEx, was used in a detailed study of 32 pig heads in which the scientists pumped in a specialty formulated chemical cocktail for six hours, which started about four hours following the death of the pigs.
“We found that tissue and cellular structure is preserved and cell death is reduced. In addition, some molecular and cellular functions were restored,” Neuroscientist Nenad Sestan says. “This is not a living brain, but it is a cellularly active brain.”
This obviously raises many ethical questions and the researchers state that their goal was not to restore consciousness in the pig brains, but to allow for a new way to more accurately study brain diseases or injuries and learn more about the brain itself.
The chemical cocktail contained an anti-seizure drug that is known to “block or dampen neuronal activity,” but some of the individual cells did show signs that they were “capable of electrochemical responses.”
So, it is unclear if there would have been any form of consciousness restored if the blocker had been left out, but the scientists wanted to ensure they weren’t causing any harm to a potentially conscious or active Pig brain.
This study, if moved to further stages or even to human testing, could raise many questions and make the decision required when someone is declared brain-dead a lot more complicated, as we obviously want to give our loved ones every chance at life.
If these experiments to go awry and a zombie apocalypse is created, be sure to check out our guide of how video games have taught us survive in a post-apocalyptic world infested with the undead.
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Adam Bankhurst is a news writer for IGN who finds this all pretty crazy/amazing. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamBankhui
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