Organ decay stopped, cell function restored in pigs after death study

A pig, near market weight, stands in a pen at Duncan Farms in Polo, Illinois, USA, April 9, 2018. Photo taken April 9, 2018. REUTERS/Daniel Acker

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Aug 3 (Reuters) – Researchers have found that tissue decay after death can be stopped and cell functions restored based on early experiments in pigs, which could ultimately help increase the number of transplantable human organs.

Sixty minutes after the anesthetized animals’ hearts stopped, Yale researchers were able to restart circulation using a specialized machine and a synthetic fluid that carries oxygen and other components that promote cellular health and suppress inflammation.

Six hours later, treatment with the so-called OrganEx technology had reduced or corrected some of the damage, such as swelling of the organs and collapse of blood vessels, which are usually the result of oxygen starvation when blood flow stops in cardiac arrest.

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The results show that when the heart stops, the body is “not as dead as we previously thought,” Yale University’s Zvonimir Vrselja said at a news conference. “We have been able to show that we can convince cells not to die.”

Genetic analysis of the tissues suggested that molecular and cellular repair processes had begun once circulation was restored, the researchers reported Wednesday in the journal Nature.

Compared to the traditional way of restoring circulation — extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) — OrganEx “preserved tissue integrity, reduced cell death and restored selected molecular and cellular processes in multiple vital organs,” the researchers wrote.

Throughout the experiment, the pigs had no evidence of electrical activity in the brain, the researchers said.

They hope that OrganEx will eventually make greater use of organs recovered after the cessation of life support in donors with severe, irreversible brain damage by preventing the damage that occurs when blood stops circulating. Currently, these organs do worse after transplantation than those obtained from brain-dead donors who remain alive.

However, that could take years.

The result of the pig study “doesn’t say that all organs have been restored to the level of functioning” needed to sustain life, said Stephen Latham of Yale’s Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics.

Theoretically, the technology could one day be used to restore life to someone who has just died. “To do that, many more experiments are needed,” Latham said. “And you should think about the state in which a human being would be restored.”

Use in organ transplantation is a much closer, more realistic goal, Latham said. Any use of OrganEx as medical therapy “will be a long way off.”

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Reporting by Nancy Lapid; adaptation by Caroline Humer and Bill Berkrot

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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