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Genetic Linkage

Revived pig brains may unleash uncomfortable questions for how we define death

When Yale researchers announced that they'd kept pig brains quasi-functional for several hours after they'd been separated from the bodies, writers wrote, bioethicists weighed in on the fine line between life and death, and animal rights activists objected.

 

But I thought about the pilot episode of Star Trek.

 

Pigs have long been models in cardiovascular disease research, because their hearts and blood vessels are about the same size as ours. My favorite experimental pig, though, lent her liver.

 

Sweetie Pie had been genetically modified so that her cells were festooned with human proteins, preventing organ rejection. In 1997, when she was 15 weeks old, her detached but functioning liver kept 19-year-old Robert Pennington, suffering from acute liver failure and desperately needing a transplant, alive for 6.5 hours. The young man's blood was cleansed outside of his body through Sweetie Pie's living liver until a human one became available.

 

tz pigPigs mixing with humanity figure into sci-fi and even comedy. The 1960 Twilight Zone episode "Eye of the Beholder" visited a society in which people have pig faces, and the few with human faces are condemned to live out their lives out of sight in their own villages. And on Seinfeld, Kramer reported a pig man on the loose on the top floor of a hospital.

 

Introducing BrainEx

The title of the Nature paper says it all: "Restoration of brain circulation and cellular functions hours post-mortem."

 

 

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