I’m not sure how new this science really is – it’s pigs, by the way, not people, in case you were worried – but The Guardian is excited at the prospect of scientists being able to keep brains alive for 36 hours without any body to help keep them going:
While the scientists, led by Yale University neuroscientist Nenad Sestan, say the brains are not conscious, they add the feat might help researchers to probe how the brain works, and aid studies into experimental treatments for diseases ranging from cancer to dementia.
The revelation, disclosed in the MIT Technology Review and based on comments Sestan made at a meeting at the US National Institutes of Health in March, has received a mixed reaction in the scientific community.
Anna Devor, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Diego, told the MIT Technology Review the feat could help researchers probe the connections between brain cells, allowing them to build a “brain atlas”.
However others were quick to stress that the development did not mean humans could expect to cheat death any time soon, noting that it is not possible to transplant a brain into a new body.
“That animal brain is not aware of anything, I am very confident of that,” Sestan is reported to have told the NIH meeting. But he noted that ethical considerations abound: “Hypothetically, somebody takes this technology, makes it better, and restores someone’s [brain] activity. That is restoring a human being. If that person has memory, I would be freaking out completely.”
Sestan and his colleagues are reported to have used more than 100 pigs, whose brains were recovered from slaughterhouses. The researchers then used a sophisticated system called BrainEx to keep the cells alive, circulating an oxygenated fluid through the organ.
It is not the first time an animal’s brain has been kept alive outside of the body: the feat has previously been achieved in guinea pigs, while Edwards noted that the brainstems and hearts of rodents including mice have also been kept in working order outside of the body.
Is it just me, or is it weird that there’s already a trademarkable name for the technology?