You know those tricky situations commonly dealt with in science fiction novels, where man’s reach sometimes exceeds his grasp? This might be one of those moments. A United States biotech company called BioQuark Inc. has just been been granted ethical permission to recruit twenty 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. The medical ethics organizations from which they received this permission are the United States Institutes of Health, and the corresponding organization in India.
The bodies won’t be dead dead — just clinically brain dead. The test subjects will have been those certified as dead but kept functioning through life support. 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. During the treatments, the subjects 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 Bioquark team, led by CEO Dr. Ira Pastor, believes that the brain stem cells may be able to erase their history and go through sort of a “reboot” process, re-starting life again, drawing their cues from their surrounding tissue. This is similar to the process seen in the animal kingdom in creatures like salamanders who can regrow entire limbs. Pastor 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, as it’s called, is focused on “biomedical interventions for brain death utilizing the most cutting edge neuro-regeneration and neuro-reanimation technologies available.” The project says it plans to start recruiting patients immediately and will perform the initial “proof of concept” procedure in Uttarakhand, India — though “recruiting” may be a strange new use of the word, considering that the patients are, in fact, technically already dead. On the plus side, people who had presumed to have passed irretrievably beyond the veil of this life into the next may be able to return. On the minus side, nobody actually knows what happens to the mind within a brain that’s been dormant for that long. There is truthfully no way to know what will happen when, or if, any of these people actually wake up again.
Mind you, this is a commercial company doing this, and the ReAnima Project is being touted as a medical service. Raising the dead appears to be on their business card. To be honest, we have absolutely no idea how we feel about this, but until they actually succeed, discussion is academic. When they do succeed, if they do, discussion will probably be too late to affect the outcome.
Ready or not, welcome to the future.