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Science

Researchers Are Keeping Pig Brains Alive Outside the Body (technologyreview.com) 150

In a step that could change the definition of death, researchers have restored circulation to the brains of decapitated pigs and kept the reanimated organs alive for as long as 36 hours. From a report: The feat offers scientists a new way to study intact brains in the lab in stunning detail. But it also inaugurates a bizarre new possibility in life extension, should human brains ever be kept on life support outside the body. The work was described on March 28 at a meeting held at the National Institutes of Health to investigate ethical issues arising as US neuroscience centers explore the limits of brain science. During the event, Yale University neuroscientist Nenad Sestan disclosed that a team he leads had experimented on between 100 and 200 pig brains obtained from a slaughterhouse, restoring their circulation using a system of pumps, heaters, and bags of artificial blood warmed to body temperature.
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Researchers Are Keeping Pig Brains Alive Outside the Body

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 26, 2018 @11:40AM (#56506963)
    This type of experimentation is absolutely evil. This should not be done, even to animals. This is possibly the cruelest thing I have ever heard. Leave it to human beings to invent something that's even worse than death. Because killing isn't bad enough, we need to invent a way to put things into a literal living hell.
    • by sinij ( 911942 ) on Thursday April 26, 2018 @11:48AM (#56507019)
      Yes, this is likely very cruel to pigs if they ever regain consciousness. Which is not given. This will also help treat trauma and organ failure patients and will save human lives.
      • by sinij ( 911942 ) on Thursday April 26, 2018 @11:53AM (#56507053)
        Reading TFA:

        Sestan says the organs produce a flat brain wave equivalent to a comatose state

        So no, pig brains were not feeling. They were effectively shut down.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Reading TFA:

          Sestan says the organs produce a flat brain wave equivalent to a comatose state

          So no, pig brains were not feeling. They were effectively shut down.

          So you're saying a Futurama Trump head in a jar is right around the corner?

          • Yep. All they gotta do is hook the brains up to twitter and get something at least as insightful as "covfefe" out of them, and BAM! we're in the future.
        • So those are brain dead brains?

      • by Oswald McWeany ( 2428506 ) on Thursday April 26, 2018 @12:20PM (#56507273)

        Yes, this is likely very cruel to pigs if they ever regain consciousness. Which is not given. This will also help treat trauma and organ failure patients and will save human lives.

        I'm not falling for that. I saw The man with 2 brains. I learnt my lesson from that- I know where that leads. Steve Martin does make documentaries right?

      • save human lives.

        Good luck putting it back into a living human body...

        • by rogoshen1 ( 2922505 ) on Thursday April 26, 2018 @02:53PM (#56508579)

          So pretend a person is in a car accident and bleeds out. A procedure like this could be done to preserve the brain while the surgeons repair the wounds..

          Or while waiting on blood transfusion, or a donor organ.

          Your absolutely right, this has no practical application other than pig torture and every doctor's latent desire to emulate Frankenstein.

      • save human lives

        Someone already mentioned the Nazis, so I give you Unit 731 [wikipedia.org]. Experimenting on American POWs helped save human lives!!!, so it was not only perfectly okay, pardoning the researchers was even more so, right? Right?

        • It doesn't really matter, but Unit 731 "logs" were mostly Chinese. There are some differences, though.

          We routinely kill pigs. My last ham and cheese omelette tasted fine, and I rather suspect it involved an untimely demise for a pig. We don't routinely kill humans, and generally don't eat them afterwards.

          Also, neither the Nazis nor Unit 731 cared a bit about how the subjects felt. (One Unit 731 role was to let Japanese doctors practice battlefield operations, like say amputating a limb, and they th

          • We routinely kill pigs.

            Killing isn't the problem. The problem is causing pain for long periods. US factory farms are particularly cruel endeavors on that side of the equation, and on the other ethical constraints on animal research provide hardly better living conditions for those used in them. That pain, and the brutality that goes into producing and maintaining it, are the aspects that need corrected, specially because it isn't uncommon for both to "overflow" into how humans themselves get treated by other humans.

            • If anything, the researchers would perform a lobotomy of some sort and focus on keeping the tissues alive and viable outside the body. The pig wouldn't even exist after that point and it wouldn't be able to process any bodily pain either.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Bu, but, butt....

      BACON!!!!!1!

    • wrong, brains were from a slaughterhouse that transform pigs into that highest and most noble achievement of being bacon, ham, chops and pork tenderloin. Brains tacos are a thing in some places, but I doubt a couple hundred brains missing from the market inconvenienced any mexicans.

      • Bacon isn't immoral - the slaughter is quick and relatively painless and moreover necessary for our survival, that's just nature, in fact that's significantly more kind than nature. This is evil because it involves taking a thing with some degree of sentience, keeping it in a sensory-deprived state and conscious with no hope of recovery, and just poking it. Think of the screeching monkey brain experiment from the movie Transcendence, the only difference here is that you can't hear the tortured animal's cr
        • I don't think it would be that horrible to experience. If they could recover brain function, I assume it would be sort of like dreaming. When your brain is disconnected from the outside world, you start to make up your own reality.

          • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

            Ahh, so I see you have never suffered from a headache. You are aware you do not really feel pain in the rest of your body, you feel that pain, in your brain. You nervous system feeds those sensations back to your brain, so only the connections in your brain to that nervous system need to be intact to feel, literally anything, from you body being onfire, to being shredded in a mulching machine, of course anything except probably anything fun. The way to tell if the brain is alive is that it is in fact functi

        • it involves taking a thing with some degree of sentience, keeping it in a sensory-deprived state and conscious

          Were that the case, I'd agree wholeheartedly, but TFA states

          There was no evidence that the disembodied pig brains regained consciousness.

          Later, TFA states

          Sestan now says the organs produce a flat brain wave equivalent to a comatose state

          although that statement is made in the context that they were looking to see if an ex-vivo brain could regain consciousness. Initially they thought they had found evidence of this, then put it down to artifacts in the equipment.

          So, I'm not sure I'd give them a pass just because they failed to take a brain from an animal that has died and restore it to a kind of disembodied consciousness.

          without the balls to hunt and torture something more dangerous than an animal.

          Um, the only way I can get that sentence to p

        • Is the pig brain conscious? I got the impression that the researchers were preventing that, and were verifying with the brain waves.

    • I agree, and I'm of the type to believe nature exists to serve us and that virtually any form of GM is perfectly acceptable on a moral basis. This is just torture, the best potential outcome of which is a means to control the minds of people. It ranks up there with sociology and psychology on the evil scale because even the best outcome is absolutely horrible while the other outcomes are just more horrible.
    • by oic0 ( 1864384 )
      Remember too that the brain is just part of a system. Without responses from the rest of the system it fails to feel a lot of different emotions. Stress and fear in particular require a bit of feedback from the rest of you to continue on.
  • by sl3xd ( 111641 ) on Thursday April 26, 2018 @11:40AM (#56506967) Journal

    That said, there's living tissue and functioning tissue... I'm not sure this is the latter.

    • Hawking's brain was working pretty well.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      The summary makes it sound like they took a dead brain and pumped blood through it. Not at all what the title said. I, of course, didn't read the article.

      But we are looking at the possibility of a future in which a whole new kind of torture, more horrible than any invented before, becomes an actual possibility. Combine tech that keep a brain alive with implants that create a virtual reality for that brain...and you can make the religious myth of "Hell" an experiential reality for any helpless victim you

      • Humans have already mastered the art of keeping other humans in extreme distress for a long time. Heck, I've heard accounts from people who had large third-degree burns, and that sounds less comfortable than most torture devices.

  • Futurama (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 26, 2018 @11:43AM (#56506985)

    Already covered the ethical issues of this in detail. Nixons head must not be allowed to take over again!

  • Kramer (Score:5, Funny)

    by XanC ( 644172 ) on Thursday April 26, 2018 @11:53AM (#56507049)

    Believe me, somewhere in this hospital the anguished oink of pig-man cries out for help!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Wow, this weeks Dilbert [dilbert.com] seems especially relevant now.

  • If people keep repeating the word 'pork', I'm outta here!

  • by houghi ( 78078 ) on Thursday April 26, 2018 @12:01PM (#56507095)

    Seriously. This is not funny anymore.

  • No need to create complicated AI chips. Just use brains from convicts.

  • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 ) on Thursday April 26, 2018 @12:06PM (#56507133)
    From TFA(and yes, turning in my slashdot card)

    There was no evidence that the disembodied pig brains regained consciousness. However, in what Sestan termed a “mind-boggling” and “unexpected” result, billions of individual cells in the brains were found to be healthy and capable of normal activity.

    So the brains are still dead. There is no consciousness, no functioning of the brain itself. All this really shows is something that really isn't a surprise: the brain cells don't die right away. Because the neurons are still dead, this is no different than keeping an arm or an organ alive outside the body. It might lead to some improvements with transplants, but until they can actually show renewed neuron activity in the brain, this idea is as dead as a slab of bacon.

    • The brains are being artificially deadened by the blockers in the solution, per the article. They are probably thinking about what happens if they took those out...

      No reason for a brain to die. Supply it with what it needs, and it can stay alive...who know how long. If you can feed the auditory and retinal input, you'd have something that has no haptic reality, but can still think, see, hear. Neural cybernetic links are doable.

      Death as we always define it is nonsense. If the brain is alive, death doesn't co

      • Brains are, in fact, biological, and it isn't clear to me that they'd be immortal if properly taken care of outside the body.

    • until they can actually show renewed neuron activity

      but, as per your own quote...

      billions of individual cells in the brains were found to be healthy and capable of normal activity.

  • (Trust me, it's relevant.)

    (originally published in "Bob's" Big Book of Fables for Sleepy-Heads, Simon & Schuster, 1943)

    Once upon a time!

    Care Dog was strolling along on a bright, sunny Summer's day. Sweet-hearted fellow that he was, he enjoyed the beautiful singing of the birds and the comforting buzz of the bees. He was on the road through Sweet-Wood Forest, with Care-A-Lot town far behind him, when quite suddenly he happened upon Pee Bear, who was sitting right in the middle of the road. That rascally

    • I came here to deliberately NOT post a link to that story. With big, red straps!

  • by Falconnan ( 4073277 ) on Thursday April 26, 2018 @12:27PM (#56507329)
    Admittedly, the article suggests a comatose state. However, imagine being in this state: No sensory input from any normal sources. The potential for the final state of the body to translate into a sensation of pain from any/all possible sources. I understand the goal here, and maybe at some point this would be a viable option. However, to me, this is kind of terrifying. The animal cruelty implications aren't minor, either.
    • I share the same concerns about this type of research. I seem to remember another recent experiment where they grew mice with brains containing some human brain cells. It's not just animals though, what about artificial intelligences?

      Since we can't enter the consciousness of something else, how can we be sure we haven't created something that exists in a state of constant agony?

    • by HiThere ( 15173 )

      That's not clear. Admittedly my first thought was "This is something new in the way of sensory deprivation!", but on further thought I'm less sure. From what I've heard, people who have recovered from being "locked in" don't report anything dreadful. They just became fuzzy and disconnected. It's as if because they weren't receiving any messages, they just didn't think. They don't seem to have been aware that time was passing.

    • Pain is transmitted by a specific kind of neuron called a nociceptor. If they aren't transmitting pain signals, then, if conscious, the brain would not experience pain. That doesn't mean it could relive the final moments over and over in sensory deprivation and experience mental anguish. Not pleasant however you slice it (no pun intended), but that doesn't seem to be the case here. The investigator stated that there was a flat EEG, and we don't have any reason to believe a brain is "thinking" without EEG ac

      • Respectfully, this assertion is probably incorrect. Nociceptors are responsible for transmitting data from the body indicating damage, true. However, perception of pain takes place in the brain, and can in fact be experienced without exterior stimulation. Typically this results in some serious pain being experienced despite a lack of damage. Ask amputees. Now, usually, when the system is working it seems that the brain fills in data from multiple sources and derives that there is nothing wrong. However, wit
  • As far as I got it, they managed to keep the brains "alive" in the sense that cells were getting nutrients through artifical blood flow. There was no sign of any remotely normal functioning of the brains though. So, outside of any ethical considerations, that's still completely pointless.

    One thing to consider is that once a brain is deprived of any afferent information, its ability to function probably declines very quickly. It may be interesting for neural experimentation but that's pretty much it.

    Of cours

  • that dragonfly looking space ship with all those brains in those containers in the back, stanley tweedle was the captain
  • by magusxxx ( 751600 ) <magusxxx_2000@@@yahoo...com> on Thursday April 26, 2018 @01:04PM (#56507655)

    Don Adams looks at Stephen Hawking and says, "Missed it by THAT much."

    • Don Adams looks at Stephen Hawking and says, "Missed it by THAT much."

      Stephen Hawking pretty much proved that the will to live is nearly limitless, and that a healthy body is only a small part of what we are.

  • Just don't let this technology fall into the hands of the Imorg... Pain and delight may ensue...

  • In what sense are these pig brains "alive"? How do the researchers know what these discorporated brains are even thinking?

    Maybe the pig brain thinks it is breathing and feels like it is pumping blood and maintaining physiologic temperate. But could it be re-circulating air, running heating plants, purifying water?

    Wake me up when they can put the brain back in the pig.

    A child could do it. A child could do it.

  • This non-kosher headache nightmare will be with me for some time, Pinky.

  • I'd be astonished if someone hadn't wondered if pig brains could pilot a missile.

  • by Faw ( 33935 ) on Thursday April 26, 2018 @03:50PM (#56509017)

    ...and it was all done in the 1950s. Search for Doctor Sergei S. Bryukhonenko.

    Experiments in the Revival of Organisms

    Check the weird stuff in youtube [youtube.com].

  • "They Saved Arnold's Brain"

  • If you've got 20 minutes, check out this video from Moscow in 1940 [archive.org] showing attempts to keep severed dog heads alive. Even J B S Haldane makes an appearance.

  • I had a good look during the recent State of The Union and I couldn't see any mechanical devices whatsoever. They must've really cracked the miniaturization problem.

  • From the pig's point of view, being slaughtered and eaten is already pretty much the most horrifying thing imaginable. Supposing that consciousness could be restored, isn't that better than death? What's the issue here? Maybe we shouldn't be killing and eating pigs.

    The big take away for me is, there's no debate at all about whether a pig has consciousness and self awareness. It hasn't always been that way.

  • The only way our human understanding of biology has been able to progress has been by the brutalisation of living organisms. While that was understandable centuries ago in the past century (at least) there have been the tools in place for biology to take a more theoretical approach say, the development of mathematical models to explain and simulate living organisms. Yet instead biology has overwhelmingly continued to embrace crass approaches to the study of organisms using modern technology only to persis

    • Biology is a science. Mathematics isn't. A science is something where we find objective evidence of things, make theories, make tests and observations to try to falsify the theories, and repeat. Mathematics is something where we start with basic assumptions and make deductions from them. It's very useful as an assist in science, but it isn't science.

      Physics doesn't have first principles. It has assumptions and theories. A little over a century ago, space and time were first principles. We now know

Logic is the chastity belt of the mind!

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