The brain can be revived hours after death, and without a body

I mentioned the idea of “suspended animation” on several of Danny Roddy’s podcasts and posted in a few threads that rat brains have been kept alive for days during experiments conducted in the early 1990s.

These experiments severely challenge our idea of what it means to be “dead” and suggest there is indeed an aspect of human existence that survives beyond “death”. Many science fiction novels have toyed with the idea of “brain in a box” and it was introduced into popular culture through the Twilight Zone series. As the study below shows, it now seems to be inching closer to reality.

The study reports that the brains of pigs were taken up to 4 hours after the pigs had been slaughtered and quite reasonably (or is it?) considered dead. The brains were then hooked to machines that provided restored circulation and nutrient supply and that was sufficient for the brains to avoid deterioration/decay and even display electrical activity. Of course, the authors vehemently claim that at no point was consciousness restored, but I suspect this is complete bunk. The early studies with rat brains in the 1990s showed electrical activity consistent with consciousness, and in the current study the team performing the experiments had anesthesia doctors on standby ready to administer lethal doses of general anesthetics to the revived brains in case consciousness reached levels considered medically unethical. The study does not say if those anesthetics were ever employed during the experiment…Also, as the study says, cellular activity in the brain WAS restored by providing the cells with nutrition and an electron acceptor akin to oxygen. Since consciousness is an electronic phenomenon, restoring cellular activity (electron flow) in the brain is synonymous with restoring life/consciousness. And perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the story is that there does not seem to be a limit to how long this “brain in the box” can be maintained in a quasi-alive state. The experiment ended after 6 hours but only because this is how much life-maintaining solution (BrainEx) the scientists had prepared beforehand. With more supplies, this process can be maintained indefinitely.

So much for the inevitability of death…I guess now we are only left with taxes 🙂

“…Some aspects of death are not entirely irreversible. On Monday, Yale scientists announced that they successfully restored circulation and cellular activity in pig brains four hours after the animals had died. The restored brains, the team emphasizes, were not alive — but they did become cellularly active.”

“…The experiment hinges on a newly developed system called BrainEx. In an issue of Nature scheduled to be published Thursday, the team explains that BrainEx involves connecting the brain’s vascular system to a solution developed to preserve brain tissue. The solution acts as a substitute for blood and contains a hemoglobin-based oxygen carrier and a range of pharmacological agents to keep a dead or dying brain alive. “

“…Furthermore the system reduced cell death, preserved anatomical architecture, ignited spontaneous neural activity and active cerebral metabolism. Meanwhile, the untreated control brains rapidly decomposed. The team stopped the experiment after six hours because of the limited availability of the BrainEx solution — which means they still don’t know how long these functions could have been sustained.”

“…“The researchers were prepared to intervene with the use of anesthetics and temperature-reduction to stop organized global electrical activity if it were to emerge,” Latham says. “Everyone agreed in advance that experiments involving revived global activity couldn’t go forward without clear ethical standards and institutional oversight mechanisms.” This study’s findings sharply contrast with what we know about dead brains. The established idea is that once oxygen and blood flow cease, basic cellular functions stop within seconds and in that moment, neural activity is irretrievably lost. From there, the brain is expected to begin a trajectory towards cell death and decay. The new research disrupts the idea that the demise of a dead brain is rapid and concrete. The team hopes that in the immediate future, this research can lead to a new way of studying the postmortem brain, allowing scientists to study complex cell and circuit conditions after the life of a specimen is lost.”