People used to believe that a person died once the heart stopped beating. Science eventually changed that idea. Research showed that if the brain was still active, it was sometimes possible to get a person’s heart beating again. In the United States, the current criteria to determine death is the “irreversible cessation of circulatory and respiratory function” or “the irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain, including the brain stem.” Though it is still very early, it is possible that in the future this may change once again. Yale scientists recently found a way to partially revive parts of the brains of dead pigs at the cellular level, despite them being dead for several hours.
The researchers obtained 32 pig heads from a slaughterhouse. They initially flushed the brains out to get rid of any remaining blood and bring the temperature of the tissue down. Roughly four hours after the death of the pigs, the researchers then filled the brains with a scientifically-formulated chemical mixture. They kept that process going for six hours. They used some brains as a control, filling them with a solution that did not contain the same chemicals as the other. The original aim of the study was to study brain cells while leaving the brain intact. The brain would have to be given oxygen, nutrients and other chemicals to preserve brain cells. In the past, the only way to study brain tissue was by removing cells from the brain.
When they tested the brains after completing the chemical process, they were surprised to find that the the brains showed less cellular death, some neural activity and active metabolism, along with other impressive results. Despite the energy usage they detected, they did not observe any signs of higher function or awareness.
None of this means that zombies are an impending reality. Partial cellular function is not the same as a conscious brain. The researchers also stated that though it wasn’t their aim, they continually monitored the pigs’ brains for any signs of consciousness. They said they would have immediately ended the experiment if they’d found any indications that the pigs “awoke.”
Though these findings are exciting, scientists are still a long way off from applying this to human brains. The researchers also fully acknowledge the potential ethical implications that could arise if they ever got to that point. However, they remain hopeful that they’ll be able to use these findings to treat brain conditions that result from deterioration. This research could offer hope to patients who have Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other similar conditions that are currently difficult to treat. Time will tell where this research will lead.