It only took a few centuries, but the central conceit behind Mary Shelley’s classic horror sci-fi novel Frankenstein is now an achievement of modern medical science. Indeed, in an advancement leaping from the pages of Shelley’s work to reality, researchers have done what seemed impossible—keeping a brain (belonging to a pig) alive for several hours outside of its host body.
The Brainy Study
A team from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center spearheaded the development. Their groundbreaking work highlights the potential for radical and novel medical therapies involving a deeper understanding of neurological function. As detailed in the journal Scientific Reports, the researchers’ work underscores the incredible strides taking place in the field of neuroscience.
The study detailed how the pig’s noggin was maintained in a state of active function while completely divorced from its body through a technique dubbed Extracorporeal Pulsatile Circulatory Control (EPCC).
EPCC precisely mimics the body’s natural processes, preserving the brain’s vitality and functionality over an extended period by providing a continuous supply of blood, oxygen, and nutrients.
This fantastic scientific feat opens doors to unprecedented medical applications and research opportunities; the research implications are as vast as they are varied.
New Ways To Study The Brain
For example, scientists can now isolate this special organ—the most energy-consuming and essential in our (or any pig’s) body—to study its functionality sans the interference of bodily responses. While said responses could skew results in traditional experimental settings, an isolated environment provides for exceedingly precise manipulation of variables like glucose levels.
The exact parameters enabled by EPCC would offer more exact insights into how such factors shape brain activity.
One of the study’s leading authors, Dr. Juan M. Pascual, expressed the achievement’s enormous significance, particularly how it frees scientists to study the organ without interference from the body—all of which will lead to solving neurological and physiological puzzles that have remained unsolvable until now.
The study also represents the possibility of developing new treatments for neurological conditions and expanding our understanding of neurological function.
The details of the experiment seem straight out of sci-fi: after surgically separating the blood flow to the pig’s brain from its body, the research team connected it to the EPCC device. Through this setup, the scientists could precisely control and monitor the organ’s blood flow and blood pressure.
In an incredible development, suggesting the noggin can function relatively normally when maintained with an EPCC system, the neurological activity observed during the experiment remained consistent with normal conditions.
Important Questions Need To Be Asked
However, horrifying or not, the possibilities implied by the study are equally vast and intriguing. They range from studying the impacts of numerous substances on neurological activity to exploring potential treatments for brain injuries or diseases.
That said, the ethical and philosophical implications of such medical marvels also bear consideration. The concept of a pig’s brain existing independently from its body raises complex questions about consciousness and identity–indeed, what it means to be alive.
Ultimately, it’s immensely important to proceed cautiously and adhere to ethical standards as we venture further into these uncharted territories of medical science.
Source: Scientific Reports