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Brain-Dead People May Be Able To Live Again

A biotech company in the U.S. has received government approval to begin running experiments on brain-dead humans in an attempt to bring their brains back to life. What could possibly go wrong?

The firm is Bioquark Inc., a life sciences company in Philadelphia that develops “proprietary combinatorial biologics for the regeneration and repair of human organs and tissues.” The so-called ReAnima Project is its brainchild (you knew it was coming) and the approval to go ahead comes from an Institutional Review Board at the National Institutes of Health in the US and in India.

Angiogram of a brain with blood flow (left) and a brain in a brain-dead patient (right)

Angiogram of a brain with blood flow (left) and a brain in a brain-dead patient (right)

Bioquark is now looking for 20 patients who are clinically brain-dead from some traumatic brain injury and on life support. ‘Brain-dead’ means no brain stem functions, consciousness or unaided breathing, but the body is still functioning somewhat normally with the aid of machines.

Once they have permission from the patients’ families, they will begin the experiments. Dr. Ira Pastor, the CEO of Bioquark, describes the ReAnima Project as “another step towards the eventual reversal of death in our lifetime.”

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.

Phase one is called “First In Human Neuro-Regeneration & Neuro-Reanimation” and will take place at Anupam Hospital in Rudrapur, Uttarakhand India (not in the U.S. … no surprise here). A pump will inject stem cells and peptides (amino acid molecules) directly into the patients’ spinal cords. In theory, the stem cells will take information from the brain stem and regenerate themselves into brain cells. Bioquark will aid this process with lasers and nerve stimulation techniques.

Brain-dead patients will be monitored by MRI for any reanimation or activity

Brain-dead patients will be monitored by MRI for any reanimation or activity

What could possibly go wrong? Stepping outside the realm of science fiction movies, for the patient – not much. The patient is already clinically dead. Many neuroscientists doubt that brain cells can be regenerated, let alone grow into a functioning brain that would allow a brain-dead human to function again. Then again, what if by some quirk Bioquark is actually successful? What will they have created? Will the governments of the U.S. and India take responsibility?

Dr. Sergei Paylian, Founder of Bioquark, avoids the question and instead looks at the benefits the experiments will have in other areas.

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.

Ah …Alzheimer’s. We have a tremendous fear of this disease. Will our fear allow corporations and drug manufacturers to conduct risky or ethically questionable experiments and develop expensive drugs that may be unnecessary, dangerous or not even work?

Then there’s the religious aspects of bringing someone back from the dead.

What could possibly go wrong?