Right after the heart stops beating, the body goes through a cascade process in which cells and organs are destroyed by lack of oxygen and nutrients. This causes irreversible cell failure, swelling of organs, and collapse of blood vessels. In this latest study, the team led by scientists from Yale University has managed to avoid this apparently inevitable process in pigs using a system they call OrganEx.
OrganEx works as similar to cardiopulmonary bypass machines used in open heart operations. These machines take over the functions of the heart by pumping and oxygenating the blood so that the organ stays put during the operation. OrganEx pumps the pigs’ bodies with oxygen and a perfusion fluid that contains all the ingredients needed to correct electrolyte imbalances and counteract damage caused by lack of blood flow. Thanks to this technique, the scientists managed to preserve the cells and organs of the animals for up to an hour after the pigs’ hearts had stopped beating.
The pig experiment showed that the OrganEx system can restore some cellular functions in some organs after blood stops flowing to them, but the degree of recovery was not the same for all organs.
“Basically, with the intervention, we were able to show that we can persuade cells not to die,” Zvonimir Vrselja, the study’s lead author, from the Department of Neuroscience at Yale School of Medicine, told a news conference. “Under the microscope, it was difficult to distinguish between a healthy organ and one that had been treated with OrganEx technology after death,” Vrselja added.
Although the pigs’ cells and organs appeared healthy, no organized electrical activity was observed in their brains, suggesting that the animals were not conscious during the experiments.
At a press conference, the researchers said that one day this system could be applied to living humans who have suffered a heart attack or drowning, that is, who have had ischemia. However, it became clear that this is a budding research and that, for now, only focuses on animal organs for a possible application in transplantation.
“I think we’re pretty far from the human application of this whole-body experiment,” says study author Dr. Stephen Latham, director of the Yale Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics. “The recovery and maintenance of organs for transplantation is, in my opinion, a much closer and parasitic clinical goal that could be based on this study. Still, there is more work to be done in that regard as well, but before connecting this to person to try to undo ischemic damage to the whole body, you have to do a lot more work,” Latham explained. “It’s not that it can’t be done, it’s that it’s going to be a long way off.”
At the same press conference, there were those who asked if OrganEx would allow human bodies to be resurrected in the future, to which one of the researchers replied that this was just a misinterpretation of the study, or what amounts to the same thing, no.
The team plans to test OrganEx in more animal studies before considering transferring the technology to humans. “We would need to study in much more detail the extent to which ischemic damage is undone in different types of organs before we even get close to trying an experiment like this in a human who has sustained anoxic damage,” that is, damage to the organs. organs from lack of oxygen, Latham said.
Reference: Andrijevic, D., Vrselja, Z., Lysyy, T. et al. 2022. Cellular recovery after prolonged warm ischaemia of the whole body. Nature. DOI: