3 May 2016 • 12:15pm
A groundbreaking trial to see if it is possible to regenerate the brains of dead people, has won approval from health watchdogs.
A biotech company in the US has been granted ethical permission to recruit 20 patients who have been declared clinically dead from a traumatic brain injury, to test whether parts of their central nervous system can be brought back to life.
Scientists will use a combination of therapies, which include injecting the brain with stem cells and a cocktail of peptides, as well as deploying lasers and nerve stimulation techniques which have been shown to bring patients out of comas.
The trial participants will have been certified dead and only kept alive through life support. They will be monitored for several months using brain imaging equipment to look for signs of regeneration, particularly in the upper spinal cord – the lowest region of the brain stem which controls independent breathing and heartbeat.
The team believes that the brain stem cells may be able to erase their history and re-start life again, based on their surrounding tissue – a process seen in the animal kingdom in creatures like salamanders who can regrow entire limbs.
Dr Ira Pastor, the CEO of Bioquark Inc. said: “This represents the first trial of its kind and another step towards the eventual reversal of death in our lifetime.
“We just received approval for our first 20 subjects and we hope to start recruiting patients immediately from this first site – we are working with the hospital now to identify families where there may be a religious or medical barrier to organ donation.
“To undertake such a complex initiative, we are combining biologic regenerative medicine tools with other existing medical devices typically used for stimulation of the central nervous system, in patients with other severe disorders of consciousness.
“We hope to see results within the first two to three months.”
The ReAnima Project has just received approach from an Institutional Review Board at the National Institutes of Health in the US and in India, and the team plans to start recruiting patients immediately.
The first stage, named ‘First In Human Neuro-Regeneration & Neuro-Reanimation’ will be a non-randomised, single group ‘proof of concept’ and will take place at Anupam Hospital in Rudrapur, Uttarakhand India.
The peptides will be administered into the spinal cord daily via a pump, with the stem cells given bi-weekly, over the course of a 6 week period.
Dr Pastor added: “It is a long term vision of ours that a full recovery in such patients is a possibility, although that is not the focus of this first study – but it is a bridge to that eventuality.”
Brain stem death is when a person no longer has any brain stem functions, and has permanently lost the potential for consciousness and the capacity to breathe.
A person is confirmed as being dead when their brain stem function is permanently lost.
However, although brain dead humans are technically no longer alive, their bodies can often still circulate blood, digest food, excrete waste, balance hormones, grow, sexually mature, heal wounds, spike a fever, and gestate and deliver a baby.
Recent studies have also suggested that some electrical activity and blood flow continues after brain cell death, just not enough to allow for the whole body to function.
And while human beings lack substantial regenerative capabilities in the central nervous system, many non-human species, such as amphibians and certain fish, can repair, regenerate and remodel substantial portions of their brain and brain stem even after critical life-threatening trauma.
“Through our study, we will gain unique insights into the state of human brain death, which will have important connections to future therapeutic development for other severe disorders of consciousness, such as coma, and the vegetative and minimally conscious states, as well as a range of degenerative CNS conditions, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease,” added Dr Sergei Paylian, Founder, President, and Chief Science Officer of Bioquark Inc.
Commenting on the trial, Dr Dean Burnett, a neuroscientist at the Cardiff University’s Centre for Medical Education said: “While there have been numerous demonstrations in recent years that the human brain and nervous system may not be as fixed and irreparable as is typically assumed, the idea that brain death could be easily reversed seems very far-fetched, given our current abilities and understanding of neuroscience.
“Saving individual parts might be helpful but it’s a long way from resurrecting a whole working brain, in a functional, undamaged state.”