They then tested the effectiveness of OrganEx by comparing pigs treated with it to pigs hooked up to a more traditional machine that hospitals use to save the lives of patients with severe heart and lung disease by restoring their circulation, a process that extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO).
The organs treated with the OrganEx showed less signs of bleeding, cell damage or tissue swelling than the organs treated with ECMO. The researchers said this shows that the system can restore some functions in cells in multiple vital organs that would otherwise have died. For example, the researchers observed how heart cells collected from OrganEx pigs contracted, but they did not see the same contraction in samples from the ECMO group.
“These cells function for hours after they should not be, and what this tells us is that the demise of cells can be stopped and their functionality restored even an hour after death in multiple vital organs,” said Nenad Sestan, professor neurobiology at the Yale School of Medicine, told reporters during a briefing call. “But we don’t know if these organs are transplantable.”
The study is based on an earlier machine developed by the same team. BrainEx, used hours after death to partially revive the brains of pigs, was first reported by MIT Technology Review in 2018. It also used a series of pumps and filters to mimic the rhythm of natural blood circulation, where a similar chemical mix was pumped through the blood vessels. in a pig’s brain to restore oxygen to the organ for up to six hours after the animal’s death. It kept many of the brain’s cells alive and functioning for more than a day, although the team found no electrical brain activity that would indicate the brain had regained consciousness.
When a mammal’s blood flow is restricted, such as after a stroke or heart attack, cells die from lack of oxygen and nutrients the blood carries; this ultimately results in tissue and organ death. After the heart stops beating, the organs begin to swell, the blood vessels collapse and block circulation. The OrganEx perfusate liquid avoids this because it cannot clot. Zvonimir Vrselja, an associate research neuroscientist at Yale School of Medicine who worked on the study, compared OrganEx to “ECMO on steroids.”
The findings, he said, suggest cells don’t die as quickly as we thought they do, opening the way for interventions to, effectively, “tell them not to die.”
“We have shown that this progression to massive permanent cell failure does not happen so quickly that it cannot be averted or possibly corrected,” he added.