'A Living Hell' – Critics Fear Yale Scientist's Breakthrough in Brain Reanimation

Monday, 07 May 2018 - 10:59AM
Medical Tech
Monday, 07 May 2018 - 10:59AM
'A Living Hell' – Critics Fear Yale Scientist's Breakthrough in Brain Reanimation
< >
Pixabay Composite
What do you want to happen to your brain when you die? A lot of people choose to donate their organs to science – but after learning what a scientist at Yale might do with those brains, those donors may just change their minds.

According to reports, Yale School of Medicine neuroscientist Dr. Nenad Sestan and his team successfully reanimated the brains of hundreds of dead pigs and kept them alive for up to 36 hours. Sestan's system for keeping the brains alive – called BrainEx – uses a network of tubes and reservoirs to circulate fluid and oxygen to key areas.

There was no (recorded) evidence that the brains used in the study regained consciousness but, at a meeting at the National Institutes of Health to discuss ethical concerns, Sestan did say that billions of healthy cells capable of normal activity were "unexpectedly" found in the disembodied brains.

But some people have a problem with what this research implies for the future. If this is possible with pig brains, what (besides the issue of ethics) is stopping other scientists from reanimating human brains? Critics have likened the possibility of reanimating human brains to "a living hell" if the brain in question suddenly became conscious.

"The brain is not conscious," declared Yale Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics director Stephen Latham. "It's not a pig brain in a vat wondering where it is. … It isn't the sort of sci-fi thing where you wake up and think, 'I can't see anything or feel anything.'" 

Latham added that "When you die ... a bunch of your cells in your body would still be alive for some time in the biological sense of being alive ... What Dr. Sestan is doing is trying to remove that cellular death." He argued that access to living brain tissue would allow scientists to learn even more about the brain and give them another way to test drugs for people with Alzheimer's and other diseases. But first, the ethical issues would need to be addressed.

Sestan is reportedly "aware" of the questions being posed about his work, but refuses to comment until the research has been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

We can only wonder why.

Science
Neuroscience
Medical Tech
No