University of São Paulo: With innovative technique, researchers restore cell and organ function in pigs after death


Little is known about what happens to our consciousness after death, but science already understands a lot about how our bodies react to the dying process. As the heart stops beating, blood flow slows to a stop. Our organs, without oxygen, soon also stop working. It is not by chance that the process makes the viability of these organs very difficult for, for example, an eventual transplant. But that could change in the near future.

In a study published in the journal Nature , researchers at the Department of Neuroscience at the Yale School of Medicine in the United States developed a technology that restored cell and organ function in pigs an hour after death.

When commenting on the international study, professor Flávio Galvão, from the USP School of Medicine (FM), responsible for the Laboratory of Liver Transplantation and Surgery at Hospital das Clínicas, in São Paulo, explains that the technology provides a protective fluid for cells especially designed for organs and tissues.

The findings, the expert suggests, “may help extend the health of human organs during surgery and expand the availability of donated organs.” According to the professor, perfusion is not exactly a novelty in medicine, but it is currently a complex and expensive procedure. “This discovery is the result of work that began in the 1980s and 1990s. It involves a perfusion machine to preserve organs, a system that already exists, but is not yet widespread because it is expensive and impractical,” he says. .

The recent research builds on a previous project also led by Yale University, which restored circulation and certain cellular functions in the brain of a dead pig with technology dubbed BrainEx. In the new study, the scientists applied a modified version of BrainEx, called OrganEx, to the whole pig. The technology consists of a perfusion device similar to current heart-lung machines and an experimental fluid containing compounds that can promote cellular health and suppress inflammation throughout the pig’s body.

Cardiac arrest was induced in anesthetized pigs, which were treated with OrganEx one hour after death. A detail recorded is that the team was surprised to observe involuntary and spontaneous muscle movements in the head and neck areas when they evaluated the treated animals, which remained anesthetized throughout the six-hour experiment. Therefore, this type of experience involves several bioethical issues.

“The article records a fabulous effort that even involved several bioethical questions that were difficult to answer”, points out Galvão, highlighting the use of animals in research like this. “Questions like: Can we do this?” he postulates.

In the expert’s opinion, there are many restrictions involving studies of this nature, but all of them are essential to avoid future complications.

According to the Nature article , OrganEx technology could eventually have multiple applications. For example, it could extend the lifespan of organs in human patients and expand the availability of donor organs for transplantation. It can also help treat organs or tissues damaged by ischemia during heart attacks or strokes.

However, the professor emphasizes that all this will only be possible thanks to a multidisciplinary team and a massive investment in research. “There are many people from different areas working together. It is an immeasurable type of research”, he concludes, reporting that the investment involved makes clear the high level on which a study of this type is based.

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