Revival of basic functions in pigs' brains hours after death could transform neurological studies

Researchers at Yale University partially restored some basic functions to the brains of dead pigs and that could help transform neurological studies.

The study, which was published in the journal "Nature," involved the use of 32 brains from slaughterhouse pigs. The brains were taken from pigs that had been dead for about four hours. They were then connected to a system called BrainEx, which pumped components that made up artificial blood back into the tissue at a normal body temperature.

After several hours, researchers discovered that the brains had reduced cell death, preserved anatomical and cellular makeups, restored blood vessel structure and circulatory functions as well as other limited, basic functions.

But the increased cell activity did not bring on higher functions of the brain such as consciousness.

The National Institute of Health said the results show the protective agents in the artificial blood could hold the potential for improving survival and reducing neurological problems that result from trauma.

The researchers suggested that BrainEx could be used to test how experimental drugs affect the wiring of the brain. It could also help researchers use a postmortem brain to study the effects of brain injuries to cells and neural connections.

So why was the study done in the first place? The National Institute of Health's BRAIN initiative funded the development of the BrainEx system.

The initiative, which stands for Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies, is meant to help develop new tools and technologies that can advance scientific discoveries and a better understanding of the brain and related diseases.

Previous studies of a postmortem brain were often hindered by cell decomposition, blood clots and the overall decay of tissue because of the loss of blood flow and oxygen. The pig brains study was done in an effort to overcome those limitations and possibly reduce some tissue decay in postmortem brains.