They then tested the efficacy of OrganEx by comparing pigs treated with it to pigs hooked up to a more traditional machine used by hospitals to save the lives of patients with severe heart and lung disease by restoring their circulation, a process called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO).
OrganEx-treated organs showed less signs of bleeding, cell damage, or tissue swelling than ECMO-treated organs. The researchers said this shows that the system can restore some functions in cells in multiple vital organs that would otherwise have died without their intervention. For example, the researchers observed how heart cells collected from OrganEx pigs contracted, but 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 in multiple vital organs restored even an hour after death,” 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 research was based on an earlier machine developed by the same team, called BrainEx, that was used to revive the brains of pigs just hours after death, which MIT Technology Review first reported in 2018. It also used a series of pumps. and filters to maintain the rhythm of natural blood circulation, pumping a similar chemical mix through the blood vessels of the pig brain to restore oxygen supply to a dead brain for up to six hours after 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 from a stroke or heart attack, the lack of oxygen and nutrients the cells need to survive causes them to die, ultimately resulting in the death of tissues and organs. 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, suggested that cells don’t die as quickly as we assumed they do, opening up the possibility 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.