Fri. Aug 23rd, 2019

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Scientists already know how to bring a human brain back to life, but the consequences are nightmarish

3 min read

Resuscitating a dead human brain: this has been one of the greatest challenges of the science of all times, a permanent reference in literature and cinema. Now, a series of successful experiments conducted in the USA. With brains of pigs opens new paths and only ethics gets in the way to do the same with humans.(human brain back to life)

Stefano Daniele, Zvonimir Vrselja and Nenad Sestan with the BrainEx machine in the Yale laboratory. Credit: Thomas Prior / The New York Times. human brain back to life
Stefano Daniele, Zvonimir Vrselja and Nenad Sestan with the BrainEx machine in the Yale laboratory. Credit: Thomas Prior / The New York Times.

Stefano Daniele, Zvonimir Vrselja and Nenad Sestan with the BrainEx machine in the Yale laboratory. Credit: Thomas Prior / The New York Times.

In theory, there is nothing that prevents a scientist from designing a perfusion machine capable of irrigating and reviving a human brain, the physiologist Nenad Sestan told The New York Times. Together with a team of specialists from Yale University (USA), this professor of neuroscience and genetics has achieved for the first time to return the activity to hemispheres extracted from porcine heads.

The brains of pigs and those of Homo sapiens have much in common. And the technology perfected by Sestan at Yale University is, in his words, “open source.” It is only necessary to prove that once the experiment is repeated with the blood perfusion in a post mortem human brain, some kind of electrical activity involving a certain cognitive level does not occur.(human brain back to life)

A perpetual nightmare

In laboratory tests at Yale University, the electrical activity of porcine brain irrigated after death, recorded by means of encephalograms, reached a bispectral index of 10 on a scale of 1 to 100 (the one normally used by anesthesiologists). That level would correspond to a deep coma, but recent research has shown that comatose patients are or may actually be able to communicate.

Sestan revealed to the correspondent of the newspaper what the worst possible scenario would be for a brain partially returned to life: he would be trapped in a “feverish nightmare”, perpetually reliving the moment of his death (the last thing he felt before dying, what in the case of pigs would be the horror of their sacrifice). «There are no tickets, there are exits. Inside your brain, nobody can hear you scream ».

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To avoid this nightmare in the brains of the pigs, the laboratory irrigated them channel blockers, which reduced the access of blood or its substitutes to the vessels that feed the hemispheres and, thereby, reduced brain activity. In any case, the researcher doubts that the brains subjected to perfusion recover a real conscience.

Ethics and progress

After the success of the pigs’ brains, the experts at Yale have received many proposals. Not a few people have been offering themselves as brain donors in the case of suffering an early death.

Some, even, have expressly lamented that there are those who oppose resuscitating the neural conscience. “Progress can not and should not be stopped,” said the sender of an email.

Nenad Sestan has therefore asked advice from several ethicists. The director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics at Yale, Stephen Latham, replied: “If there is a remote possibility of regaining consciousness, you have to stop the experiment.”(human brain back to life)

human brain back to life
Part of the machine (BrainEx) where the pig brain was revived. Credit: Thomas Prior / The New York Times.

Part of the machine (BrainEx) where the pig brain was revived. Credit: Thomas Prior / The New York Times.

According to Professor Hank Greely of Stanford, we live in a time of rapid scientific advances. Therefore, there is no doubt that someone with less moral scruples than Sestan will appear regarding human experimentation.

“Someone will subject a dead human brain to perfusion, and I think it will be in an unconventional setting, not necessarily in the form of pure research,” Greely said. He supposed that it will be then someone with a lot of money and a scientist willing to overcome the ethical limits.

Source: The New York Times.

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