Scientists at Yale University have successfully revived the brains of decapitated pigs, prolonging their lives by a further 36 hours.
According to a leaked report out on Friday, the reanimated brains of over 200 pigs were warmed to the correct temperatures in artificial blood, bringing the pigs back to life.
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Thetimes.co.uk reports: The results of the experiments, which could one day allow scientists to improve brain research, were presented at a closed meeting of the US National Institutes of Health. Despite being confidential, however, the findings were leaked to the American magazine MIT Technology Review.
The magazine says that Nenad Sestan, the Yale neuroscientist behind the research, believed that the reanimated brains were not conscious.
“That animal brain is not aware of anything,” he said. “I am very confident of that.” He compared it more to a comatose state, a diagnosis that was backed up by the use of an EEG machine that looked for electrical signals.
He also said, however, that it was not inconceivable that this could become an issue if the technique were improved. Professor Sestan said: “Hypothetically, somebody takes this technology, makes it better, and restores someone’s [brain] activity. That is restoring a human being. If that person has memory, I would be freaking out.”
The system worked by pumping a fluid that carries oxygen to regions deep inside the pigs’ brains.
Professor Sestan has refused to talk about this research but he was a signatory to a letter in the journal Nature that called for more consideration of the ethical impacts of brain research.
The signatories questioned whether such advances “challenge our understanding of life and death”.
“What implications might such models have for the legal definition of death?” he and his colleagues asked. “Any emerging technologies that could restore lost functionality to a person’s brain could potentially undermine the diagnosis of brain death.”
Sir Colin Blakemore, a neuroscientist at the University of London, agreed that it was time to talk about the implications of such research. “At the very least it signals that we do need to have some kind of open and publicly engaged discussion about the direction of these techniques,” he said. “There was absolutely no chance these pigs were conscious — and that’s a good thing.” Sir Colin said, however, that the technology was improving, and this led to “curious contradictions”.
“The paradox is, the more successful these techniques are in maintaining the nervous system, the more useful they are in research — but the closer we get to worrying that these brains are maintaining higher function,” he said.
He claimed that it was now feasible to imagine scenarios previously reserved for science fiction. “What if we could maintain the brain of a person as they are dying, without their body?” he asked.
“Would it be right to do so?” He wondered how would we decide and would the dying person know what they were consenting to? “Who wants to be a brain in a dish? It’s a boring place to be.”