The most inescapable part of life is death. Despite that, science keeps coming closer and closer to ways to reverse death, undo death, or just ignore it entirely. Not that we’re really making zombies or resurrecting anyone yet, but you never know what the future holds.
10. Dead Pigs Have Had Organ Function Restored
In early August 2022, a story broke that researchers had managed to restore circulation and cellular activity in the hearts and brains of pigs that had been dead for an hour. The researchers were quick to say this information is not clinically relevant, and it’s not like a dead pig got up and ran around or anything. But it does bear some significance in terms of what we think happens when something dies.
The idea of death brings with it a finality. We’ve long believed cardiac death is a last stop for a living thing. You can’t reverse that. Or you couldn’t until August 2022 when these scientists did just that. This means that the body still has potential for life long after what we have traditionally believed to be irreversible death.
The future may not be running towards finding people who have been dead for an hour and reviving them, or maybe it does. But there’s also potential for how organs can be treated and preserved, ensuring that life-saving organ transplants can be performed in greater numbers.
The research has shown us that cells don’t have to die right away. The damage can actually be rolled back and function can be restored. And we’ll see shortly what that means in terms of an organ like the brain.
9. An Experiment to Reverse Brain Death in India was Blocked by the Government
On a surface level the idea behind reversing death can sound either really cool or really creepy. This is often filtered through our understanding via the lens of pop culture. Cool in a superhero way, creepy in a zombie way. But from a scientific point of view, it presents a staggering amount of serious ethical concerns that are maybe impossible to address. If you could bring a dead body back to life, would you have the right to do so? Should you?
These and other questions are likely what led the Indian government to putting the kibosh on experiments that were being conducted in the hopes of raising the dead with the use of stem cells, protein cocktails and lasers because why not?
The study, by a company called BioQuark, was scheduled for 2016, in Rudrapur but regulators said it hadn’t been given clearance so nothing happened. The plan was to use stem cells, electrical stimulation and proteins in brain dead subjects and try to promote new neuron growth and restart the brain. Quite literally it was an attempt to raise the dead. But it never even got off the ground.
It’s worth noting that many prominent scientists in the field spoke out about the experiments when they heard of them, calling it quackery and saying it had no basis in science. At best, it seemed like a cruel experiment in giving false hope to the living.
8. Russian Scientists Resurrected 30,000-Year-Old Plants
Not everything science brings back from the dead has to be human, of course. Russian scientists are at the forefront of this kind of research as witnessed by the fact they resurrected fruit from 30,000 years ago.
Thanks to Russia’s climate, Siberian permafrost does a great job of preserving things in the frozen ground. So 30,000 years ago some squirrel or other creature buried the fruits of the Silene stenophylla in the hopes that it would come back and eat it later, probably. That never happened and for 30,000 years that fruit stayed frosty in the ground until it was dug up in modern times by researchers hunting for mammoth bones.
Scientists from The Institute of Cell Biophysics tried to plant the seeds but had no luck. However, after harvesting cells from the fruit, they were able to grow them in lab dishes and create new plants that way. It’s believed the natural sugars in the plant helped preserve the cells in their frozen state for all those years.
The plants they grew were similar to modern versions but not identical, with noticeable differences in things like petal shape.
7. The Cryonics Industry Is Still Preserving Bodies
Most of us have heard about cryogenics at this point and even if it’s only used in science fiction or as a joke, or both in the case of shows like Futurama, we at least understand the concept. A person gets frozen at or before the moment of death in the hopes that, in the future, medical science will have advanced enough to bring them back and cure whatever was causing them to die in the first place.
Cryonics is a real thing, at least the freezing part, and there are companies right now that will freeze and preserve you for that future time. One company in China boasted a roster of 10 frozen clients back in 2020 with many more planning to join their ranks when the time came.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, patients who had died of Covid were preserved at cryonics facilities with the hope being the condition can be cured at some point in the future. The nature of the disease made preserving the bodies difficult, however, and at least one patient’s journey sounds like the beginning of a horror movie.
The man’s body was kept on dry ice for a day before he reached the facility where staff could not preserve him because of the contagious nature of the disease. Thus they wanted to only use their medical grade antifreeze for his head and brain while just straight freezing the rest of his body in liquid nitrogen, a process that caused ice crystals to tear his cells apart. Unfortunately, too much time had passed for even that to work.
The former president of the company that did the freeze said that, in the future, they can probably repair that damage too. He also noted the brain may be fine since it’s removed and stored separately.
6. Head Transplants
Since 2015, neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero has been promising that he would perform the world’s first head transplant. He claimed it would happen in 2017 and a procedure was performed using cadavers which does leave something to be desired in terms of confirming a successful result. For a time, Canavero was said to be working with a Russian patient who suffered from a debilitating disease that rendered their body useless, but that seems to have gone nowhere.
In 2022 there has still been no head transplant performed, despite Canavero’s insistence that he had overcome one of the main roadblocks, namely how to fuse two spinal cords together, back in 2016.
5. A Company Called Nectome Wanted to Back Up Human Brains
Not all life after death has to be biological. The human brain is often compared to a computer so it stands to reason someone has considered the possibility of transferring their mind onto a computer so they can be a ghost in the machine.
A company called Nectome was promising to back up your mind for future restoration and even got their hands on a real human brain to try out the process. Since then they walked back many of their claims in a somewhat shifty pivot to their business model. They switched to saying they were looking to learn how to do it, not that they could actually do it, though a number of people apparently paid for the service, anyway.
The science behind what they were doing was shaky enough that MIT had to publicly distance themselves from the company because the founder was one of their graduates and a professor was getting money from a grant won by the company and they didn’t want to be accused of legitimizing the work.
4. A Microscopic Creature Came Back to Life After 24,000 Years
We already saw how Russians resurrected a 30,000-year-old plant. But maybe you’re not impressed. It’s just a plant. Big deal, right? How about a 24,000-year-old life form? They did that too. The bdelloid rotifer is a microscopic organism believed to be able to survive being frozen for about a decade. That’s impressive, but hardly anything compared to the truth.
Found in the frozen Alayeza River in Russia, scientists not only thawed it out, they got it reproducing itself. The discovery was significant because, despite being microscopic, this is a multicellular organism. If it can survive 24,000 years being frozen, perhaps other more complex organisms can as well.
3. Scientists in Pittsburgh Resurrected Dogs That Had Been for Three Hours
There’s no better way to grab some attention with a headline than to toss the word “zombie” in and that’s what most media outlets did with the story of dogs being brought back from the dead in Pittsburgh back in 2005.
If you’re a dog lover, you’re going to hate this story, but this is what the researchers did. They flushed living dogs of all of their blood, replacing it with a cool saline solution mixed with oxygen and glucose. Their hearts stopped as did brain activity, and the dogs were clinically dead. Three hours later they reversed the process, putting blood back into the dogs and then shocking them back to life.
Reports say a minority of the dogs suffered permanent damage, but the rest were fine. The hope was that this experiment could undergo human trials sometime in the future towards the goal of using the process to save victims of serious blood loss.
2. The Restoration of Metabolic Function in Pig Brains
Let’s go back to where we started for a moment with pigs coming back to life. The same team that was able to restore cell and organ function had another breakthrough a couple of years back that led to a frenzy of press and sensational headlines about zombie pigs.
In 2019, Nenad Sestan from Yale’s School of Medicine and a team of others conducted an experiment on some pig brains they’d sourced from a slaughterhouse. Using a machine of their own making, after much trial and error, they were able to preserve all the functioning of a dead pig’s brain by keeping vital fluids flowing through it at just the right temperature and pressure that it would experience if the pig was still alive. What they discovered was that, even outside of the actual pig, they could keep the cells essentially alive. In fact, some cellular function had been restored.
Sestan had taken steps to prevent neurons from firing up again, fearing that their experiment could actually lead to consciousness of some kind. But during one test they measured a very low amount of electrical activity which made them fear that perhaps they had truly brought the brain back to life hours after the animal had died, which is a literal existential nightmare.
While they seem confident that no actual thought or consciousness was restored, what they have proven is that brain death is not a singular event but a process and, if treated properly, can possibly be prevented or reversed.
1. The ReAnima Project Has Been Trying To Regenerate Cardiac Tissue Through Genetic Manipulation
Remember that Indian experiment that was going to try to reverse brain death until the government shut it down? That was part of something called the ReAnima Project, and that wasn’t their only endeavor into the world of un-death.
Funded by an €8 million grant in the European Union, ReAnima has been branching out in terms of what they’re studying in an attempt to reverse death. In India, they were focused on stem cells but research has shown that stem cells have not been successful in regenerating human cardiac tissue. Meaning if a heart attack damages or destroys your heart, stem cell treatment shows no sign of being able to treat that. But that’s a human heart
There are animals in the world that have remarkable regenerative abilities. Some fish and amphibian species can regenerate their damaged heart tissue. ReAnima has been studying the nature of these regenerative abilities in the hopes of one day bridging the gap between those animals and humans. The process of how they will do this seems unclear but their website was definitely written with confidence when they describe achieving those goals through things like genetic manipulation.