Can a Dead Organism be Brought Back to Life?

Death is largely associated with permanence. But scientists have found a way to revive a dead pig.

Table of Contents

What happens after you die?

A question we often wonder about is, “What happens after you die?” Is there an afterlife? Are we reincarnated? Or do we just simply stop existing? There are many variables, but one constant, common to most ideologies, is that death is permanent. A dead organism cannot be brought back to life. All of its vital functions have stopped, its organs have stopped working to keep it alive, and its body slowly shuts down. This process may take minutes, hours, or even days.

The Grim Reaper is a popular figure associated with death
The Grim Reaper is a popular figure associated with death. Credit: wikimedia/Kirtap

What is Lazarus syndrome?

Lazarus is a character from the Bible who was said to have come back to life four days after his death. Lazarus syndrome involves blood circulation restarting despite the heart remaining stilled after CPR attempts. Essentially, it is coming back to life after having died, much like Lazarus. But this definition tends to be a little misleading. Research has found that if you have Lazarus syndrome, you never really died at all.

 

As we have gathered, death is the complete and irreversible loss of function of all your organs. Usually, CPR helps restore a stalled heartbeat and gets the blood flowing, allowing other functions to resume. There may be some issues that cause CPR not to work, ultimately leading to death. However, in Lazarus syndrome, the heart starts pumping again after CPR is stopped, and it seems as though the body has resolved the issue on its own. Most often, this happens within 10 minutes of the person’s “death.” This is why doctors typically wait 10 minutes after stopping CPR to call the time of death.

Scientists revived a dead pig

Researchers at Yale University essentially brought a pig’s brain back to life one hour after its death. They placed the brain in a specific cocktail of chemicals, restoring its “life.” The brain had the ability to consume glucose and produce carbon dioxide. The internal structures were also well-preserved, and electrical signals were detectable. However, it did not show any signs of organized activity related to understanding, awareness, or perception. Therefore, while it was indeed an active brain, it was by no means a fully functioning or living brain. It lost all activity within seconds of being cut off from oxygen and blood supply.

 

This research proved wrong a lot of notions we held about the permanence of death. It also helps us delve deeper into research on brains after death, while focusing on brain disorders that could not previously be studied on intact brains.

 

Later, researchers at Yale University tried this technique on other organs of pigs. They were successful in restoring small amounts of function in the heart, liver, and kidneys. The treated livers seemed to produce more of a protein, albumin, and responded better to glucose than those in the control group. This implied that the treatment essentially kickstarted metabolism . Much like during the experiment conducted on brains, scientists did not see any activity that could indicate that the organs are actually “alive.” However, the animals did show involuntary jerky movements that could not be explained. The signals for these movements could not have been sent by the brain, because the brain had been stripped of that function. The scientists came to the conclusion that the signals for these movements may have originated from the spinal cord.

 

The concoctions in both cases were pumped through the organs and tissues, just like blood. It contained hemoglobin and compounds that protect cells and prevent blood clots .

Pigs were revived by scientists by restarting their organ functions
Pigs were revived by scientists by restarting their organ functions. Credit: wikimedia/kallerna

Conclusion

This experiment raises a lot of moral and ethical questions and concerns. Is it right to reanimate a dead organism? Could we start giving life to inanimate objects too? Moreover, what does this mean for the welfare of people and animals? While these are valid concerns, we need to understand that this technique offers us a never-before-seen insight into understanding brains in their native state. So far, we have only been able to study brains outside of the body, which alters a lot of conditions. With this technique, we would be able to identify the root cause of many brain disorders and help treat or even prevent them. It could also provide a greater supply of organs for transplant, as the solution keeps organs viable long after death. Even without these added benefits, the experiment itself is a big win for science. While the techniques it used are quite new and not yet fit for human trials, hopes are high. We are constantly pushing the boundaries of what is possible and what is not.

 

The list of questions goes on and on, but as long as science progresses, bringing back the dead will be a very real possibility, and we need to make sure to stay on the right side of our morality and conscience.

Glossary

CPR: Cardiopulmonary resuscitation; a first aid technique that combines rescue breathing with rhythmically compressing the chest to circulate blood

 

Hemoglobin: The pigment that gives blood its red color and also helps carry oxygen and
carbon dioxide

 

Metabolism: chemical processes in a living organism that make and use energy

Flesch Kincaid Grade Level: 8.5

 

Flesch Kincaid Reading Ease: 62.3

Martial, C. et al. (2017) “Temporality of features in near-death experience narratives,” Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 11. Available at: https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2017.00311.

 

Moyer, N. (2021) Lazarus Syndrome: Coming back to life after dying, Healthline. Healthline Media. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/health/lazarus-syndrome#timing (Accessed: January 15, 2023).

 

Death: What happens when you die (no date) Cleveland Clinic. Available at: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/23144-what-happens-when-you-die#:~:text=During%20death%2C%20your%20body’s%20vital,same%20as%20consciousness%20or%20awareness. (Accessed: January 15, 2023).

 

Vrselja, Z. et al. (2019) “Restoration of brain circulation and cellular functions hours post-mortem,” Nature, 568(7752), pp. 336–343. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-019-1099-1.

 

Hathaway, B. (2019) Scientists restore some functions in a pig’s brain hours after death, YaleNews. Available at: https://news.yale.edu/2019/04/17/scientists-restore-some-functions-pigs-brain-hours-after-death (Accessed: January 15, 2023).

 

Andrijevic, D. et al. (2022) “Cellular recovery after prolonged warm ischaemia of the whole body,” Nature, 608(7922), pp. 405–412. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-022-05016-1.

 

Kozlov, M. (2022) “Pig organs partially revived in dead animals — researchers are stunned,” Nature, 608(7922), pp. 247–248. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-022-02112-0.

 

Researchers revive cells in pig organs hour after animal’s death: What this could mean for humans (2022) ABC7 Chicago. Available at: https://abc7chicago.com/yale-dead-pigs-pig-research-organex-brought-back-to-life/12097812/ (Accessed: January 16, 2023).

 

Manalac, T. (2022) A question of life and death: Yale scientists bring pig organs back to life, BioSpace. BioSpace. Available at: https://www.biospace.com/article/yale-scientists-bring-pig-organs-back-to-life-what-could-it-mean-for-regenerative-medicine-/ (Accessed: January 16, 2023).

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  • Sanjana Kadur

    Sanjana is doing her masters in biochemistry. She loves all things biology and truly believes that dogs make the world a better place. She enjoys playing basketball and spends most of her evenings on the court. Writing for Smore Science gives her the creative freedom to write about science in a fun and relatable way.