The Reanima Project – Scientists Are Attempting to Reanimate the Brain Dead


Model of the human brain. The Reanima Project aims to regrow parts of the brain stem.

by Philip Perry

Imagine this, your loved one gets into a serious accident. You and your family gather at the hospital. In the I.C.U. the doctor makes a grim announcement, they‘re brain dead. It is highly unlikely they will ever come out of a vegetative state. Today, there is no way past such horror, save for a miracle. But if one biotech firm has its way, soon doctors would be able to regrow the person’s brain, using a new procedure and a host of technologies, which could theoretically restore them to who they were before. Even so, there are lots of questions and ethical dilemmas surrounding this procedure, and the advancements it may someday thrust upon the world.

The idea originates from nature, as certain fish and amphibians can actually heal whole sections of the brain, brain stem, and other portions of the central nervous system, even after significant injury. Scientists believe they can someday mimic this process in human patients.

This study surrounds Bioquark, Inc., a Philadelphia-based company, who has received ethical approval by a U.S. and Indian Institutional Review Board. Bioquark will collaborate with Revita Life Sciences, led by famed specialist Dr. Himanshu Bansaa. The team will run a pilot study of 20 clinically brain dead patients, each having suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Taking place at Anupam Hospital in India, Bioquark is currently recruiting patients for the study, expected to take place over six weeks.

Known as the “Reanima Project,” several different therapies will be employed in combination, including stem cells injected into the brain to try and regrow damaged portions, lasers, nerve stimulation techniques—which have been successful in waking patients out of a coma, and a combination of different peptides. The peptides will be introduced daily through a spinal cord pump, and the stem cells injected every other week. The patients will be evaluated and monitored for months with brain imaging technology and an EEG to see if the brain, particularly the upper spinal cord or lower brain stem region, is regenerated. This is the oldest part of the brain which controls breathing and heartbeat.

The CEO of Bioquark Inc. Dr. Ira Pastor, said in a statement that this was the first step toward the “eventual reversal of death in our lifetime.” He believes they will achieve results within the first couple of months or so. This is the seminal stage, a “proof of concept” study. If you are afraid of the zombie apocalypse, Dr. Pastor says a common sense protocol, adopted industry-wide, should avoid any nasty scenarios from taking place. But every technology or advanced method is always thought ironclad at the onset. He believes this study will show that brain death is recoverable. Dr. Bansal has attempted a similar procedure on two brain dead patients, one in Europe and another in the Persian Gulf. They are currently in a “minimal conscious state,” but may still come out of it.

According to Dr. Bansal, “We are now trying to create a definitive study in 20 subjects and prove that the brain death is reversible. This will open the door for future research and especially for people who lose their dear ones suddenly.” Brain stem death is defined as the loss of such functions as breathing and consciousness. When a person’s brain stem has stopped functioning, there is no chance for recovery, as it stands.

Those on life support deemed brain dead still have active bodies which grow, mature, heal, digest, circulate blood, and excrete waste. A woman can even gestate and deliver a baby in this state. Some new studies suggest that even after brain death, blood flow and limited electrical activity take place inside the brain. But it isn’t enough to repair the damage, nor live without life support.

Dr. Sergei Paylian is the founder, president, and chief science officer of Bioquark Inc. He said that this experiment is not only important in developing our understanding of brain death, but also the vegetative and minimally conscious states, coma, and even neurodegenerative conditions, like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Critics urge that though these areas may not be irreparable, one pilot study is far from a complete neurological transformation. Truly it will take years or even decades for such a technique to be refined, should it even work.

Beyond that, advancements in science are always a mixed blessing. The splitting of the atom brought the microwave, the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and generations afterward living under constant fear of nuclear annihilation. The internal combustion engine has wrought the transportation industry and climate change. What could reanimating a human brain after such trauma ultimately produce?

One wonders if neurons will grow back exactly as they were, or will the person be a blank slate? The attempt will try and engage a functional epimorphic event. Epimorphic cells are those that can wipe their memory banks clean and start anew. So is this what will happen with the brain dead, should their brains be neuro-regenerated? Think of the emotional trauma to families who aren’t recognized by a healed loved one, not to mention the trauma to the person themselves? Will adults be like walking babies and need to relearn everything over again? Will it be like with amnesia? There’s no way to tell at this point.

http://bigthink.com/philip-perry/scientists-attempt-to-reanimate-the-brain-dead-what-are-the-implications?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+bigthink%2Fmain+%28Big+Think+Main%29

New research suggests that a third of patients diagnosed as vegetative may be conscious with a chance for recovery

Imagine being confined to a bed, diagnosed as “vegetative“—the doctors think you’re completely unresponsive and unaware, but they’re wrong. As many as one-third of vegetative patients are misdiagnosed, according to a new study in The Lancet. Using brain imaging techniques, researchers found signs of minimal consciousness in 13 of 42 patients who were considered vegetative. “The consequences are huge,” lead author Dr. Steven Laureys, of the Coma Science Group at the Université de Liège, tells Maclean’s. “These patients have emotions; they may feel pain; studies have shown they have a better outcome [than vegetative patients]. Distinguishing between unconscious, and a little bit conscious, is very important.”

Detecting human consciousness following brain injury remains exceedingly difficult. Vegetative patients are typically diagnosed by a bedside clinical exam, and remain “neglected” in the health care system, Laureys says. Once diagnosed, “they might not be [re-examined] for years. Nobody questions whether or not there could be something more going on.” That’s about to change.

Laureys has collaborated previously with British neuroscientist Adrian Owen, based at Western University in London, Ont., who holds the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience and Imaging. (Owen’s work was featured in Maclean’s in October 2013.) Together they co-authored a now-famous paper in the journal Science, in 2006, in which a 23-year-old vegetative patient was instructed to either imagine playing tennis, or moving around her house. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, they saw that the patient was activating two different parts of her brain, just like healthy volunteers did. Laureys and Owen also worked together on a 2010 follow-up study, in the New England Journal of Medicine, where the same technique was used to ask a patient to answer “yes” or “no” to various questions, presenting the stunning possibility that some vegetative patients might be able to communicate.

In the new Lancet paper, Laureys used two functional brain imaging techniques, fMRI and positron emission tomography (PET), to examine 126 patients with severe brain injury: 41 of them vegetative, four locked-in (a rare condition in which patients are fully conscious and aware, yet completely paralyzed from head-to-toe), and another 81 who were minimally conscious. After finding that 13 of 42 vegetative patients showed brain activity indicating minimal consciousness, they re-examined them a year later. By then, nine of the 13 had improved, and progressed into a minimally conscious state or higher.

The mounting evidence that some vegetative patients are conscious, even minimally so, carries ethical and legal implications. Just last year, Canada’s Supreme Court ruled that doctors couldn’t unilaterally pull the plug on Hassan Rasouli, a man in a vegetative state. This work raises the possibility that one day, some patients may be able to communicate through some kind of brain-machine interface, and maybe even weigh in on their own medical treatment. For now, doctors could make better use of functional brain imaging tests to diagnose these patients, Laureys believes. Kate Bainbridge, who was one of the first vegetative patients examined by Owen, was given a scan that showed her brain lighting up in response to images of her family. Her health later improved. “I can’t say how lucky I was to have the scan,” she said in an email to Maclean’s last year. “[It] really scares me to think what would have happened if I hadn’t had it.”

https://ca.news.yahoo.com/one-third-of-vegetative-patients-may-be-conscious–study-195412300.html

The Death of “Near Death” Experiences ?

near-death-experience-1

 

You careen headlong into a blinding light. Around you, phantasms of people and pets lost. Clouds billow and sway, giving way to a gilded and golden entrance. You feel the air, thrusted downward by delicate wings. Everything is soothing, comforting, familiar. Heaven.

It’s a paradise that some experience during an apparent demise. The surprising consistency of heavenly visions during a “near death experience” (or NDE) indicates for many that an afterlife awaits us. Religious believers interpret these similar yet varying accounts like blind men exploring an elephant—they each feel something different (the tail is a snake and the legs are tree trunks, for example); yet all touch the same underlying reality. Skeptics point to the curious tendency for Heaven to conform to human desires, or for Heaven’s fleeting visage to be so dependent on culture or time period.

Heaven, in a theological view, has some kind of entrance. When you die, this entrance is supposed to appear—a Platform 9 ¾ for those running towards the grave. Of course, the purported way to see Heaven without having to take the final run at the platform wall is the NDE. Thrust back into popular consciousness by a surgeon claiming that “Heaven is Real,” the NDE has come under both theological and scientific scrutiny for its supposed ability to preview the great gig in the sky.

But getting to see Heaven is hell—you have to die. Or do you?

This past October, neurosurgeon Dr. Eben Alexander claimed that “Heaven is Real”, making the cover of the now defunct Newsweek magazine. His account of Heaven was based on a series of visions he had while in a coma, suffering the ravages of a particularly vicious case of bacterial meningitis. Alexander claimed that because his neocortex was “inactivated” by this malady, his near death visions indicated an intellect apart from the grey matter, and therefore a part of us survives brain-death.

Alexander’s resplendent descriptions of the afterlife were intriguing and beautiful, but were also promoted as scientific proof. Because Alexander was a brain “scientist” (more accurately, a brain surgeon), his account carried apparent weight.

Scientifically, Alexander’s claims have been roundly criticized. Academic clinical neurologist Steve Novella removes the foundation of Alexander’s whole claim by noting that his assumption of cortex “inactivation” is flawed:

Alexander claims there is no scientific explanation for his experiences, but I just gave one. They occurred while his brain function was either on the way down or on the way back up, or both, not while there was little to no brain activity.

In another takedown of the popular article, neuroscientist Sam Harris (with characteristic sharpness) also points out this faulty premise, and notes that Alexander’s evidence for such inactivation is lacking:

The problem, however, is that “CT scans and neurological examinations” can’t determine neuronal inactivity—in the cortex or anywhere else. And Alexander makes no reference to functional data that might have been acquired by fMRI, PET, or EEG—nor does he seem to realize that only this sort of evidence could support his case.

Without a scientific foundation for Alexander’s claims, skeptics suggest he had a NDE later fleshed out by confirmation bias and colored by culture. Harris concludes in a follow-up post on his blog, “I am quite sure that I’ve never seen a scientist speak in a manner more suggestive of wishful thinking. If self-deception were an Olympic sport, this is how our most gifted athletes would appear when they were in peak condition.”

And these takedowns have company. Paul Raeburn in the Huffington Post, speaking of Alexander’s deathbed vision being promoted as a scientific account, wrote, “We are all demeaned, and our national conversation is demeaned, by people who promote this kind of thing as science. This is religious belief; nothing else.” We might expect this tone from skeptics, but even the faithful chime in. Greg Stier writes in the Christian post that while he fully believes in the existence of Heaven, we should not take NDE accounts like Alexander’s as proof of it.

These criticisms of Alexander point out that what he saw was a classic NDE—the white light, the tunnel, the feelings of connectedness, etc. This is effective in dismantling his account of an “immaterial intellect” because, so far, most symptoms of a NDE are in fact scientifically explainable. [ another article on this site provides a thorough description of the evidence, as does this study.]

One might argue that the scientific description of NDE symptoms is merely the physical account of what happens as you cross over. A brain without oxygen may experience “tunnel vision,” but a brain without oxygen is also near death and approaching the afterlife, for example. This argument rests on the fact that you are indeed dying. But without the theological gymnastics, I think there is an overlooked yet critical aspect to the near death phenomenon, one that can render Platform 9 ¾ wholly solid. Studies have shown that you don’t have to be near death to have a near death experience.

“Dying”

In 1990, a study was published in the Lancet that looked at the medical records of people who experienced NDE-like symptoms as a result of some injury or illness. It showed that out of 58 patients who reported “unusual” experiences associated with NDEs (tunnels, light, being outside one’s own body, etc.), 30 of them were not actually in any danger of dying, although they believed they were [1]. The authors of the study concluded that this finding offered support to the physical basis of NDEs, as well as the “transcendental” basis.

Why would the brain react to death (or even imagined death) in such a way? Well, death is a scary thing. Scientific accounts of the NDE characterize it as the body’s psychological and physiological response mechanism to such fear, producing chemicals in the brain that calm the individual while inducing euphoric sensations to reduce trauma.

Imagine an alpine climber whose pick fails to catch the next icy outcropping as he or she plummets towards a craggy mountainside. If one truly believes the next experience he or she will have is an intimate acquainting with a boulder, similar NDE-like sensations may arise (i.e., “My life flashed before my eyes…”). We know this because these men and women have come back to us, emerging from a cushion of snow after their fall rather than becoming a mountain’s Jackson Pollock installation.

You do not have to be, in reality, dying to have a near-death experience. Even if you are dying (but survive), you probably won’t have one. What does this make of Heaven? It follows that if you aren’t even on your way to the afterlife, the scientifically explicable NDE symptoms point to neurology, not paradise.

This Must Be the Place

Explaining the near death experience in a purely physical way is not to say that people cannot have a transformative vision or intense mental journey. The experience is real and tells us quite a bit about the brain (while raising even more fascinating questions about consciousness). But emotional and experiential gravitas says nothing of Heaven, or the afterlife in general. A healthy imbibing of ketamine can induce the same feelings, but rarely do we consider this euphoric haze a glance of God’s paradise.

In this case, as in science, a theory can be shot through with experimentation. As Richard Feynman said, “It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong.

The experiment is exploring an NDE under different conditions. Can the same sensations be produced when you are in fact not dying? If so, your rapping on the Pearly Gates is an illusion, even if Heaven were real. St. Peter surely can tell the difference between a dying man and a hallucinating one.

The near death experience as a foreshadowing of Heaven is a beautiful theory perhaps, but wrong.

Barring a capricious conception of “God’s plan,” one can experience a beautiful white light at the end of a tunnel while still having a firm grasp of their mortal coil. This is the death of near death. Combine explainable symptoms with a plausible, physical theory as to why we have them and you get a description of what it is like to die, not what it is like to glimpse God.

Sitting atop clouds fluffy and white, Heaven may be waiting. We can’t prove that it is not. But rather than helping to clarify, the near death experience, not dependent on death, may only point to an ever interesting and complex human brain, nothing more.

http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2012/12/03/the-death-of-near-death-even-if-heaven-is-real-you-arent-seeing-it/