By Rachael Rettner
In a radical experiment that has some experts questioning what it means to be “alive,” scientists have restored brain circulation and some cell activity in pigs’ brains hours after the animals died in a slaughterhouse.
The results, though done in pigs and not humans, challenge the long-held view that, after death, brain cells undergo sudden and irreversible damage.
Instead, the findings, published today (April 17) in the journal Nature, show that the brain of a large mammal “retains a previously underappreciated capacity for restoration” of circulation and certain cellular activities hours after death, said study senior author Nenad Sestan, a professor of neuroscience, comparative medicine, genetics and psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine in New Haven.
“The main implication of this finding is that … cell death in the brain occurs across a longer time window that we previously thought,” Sestan said during a news conference yesterday. Rather than happening over a course of seconds or minutes after death, “we are showing that … [it’s] a gradual, stepwise process,” and that in some cases, the cell death processes can be postponed or even reversed, Sestan said.
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