What if you could bring the dead back to life? How different would the field of medicine be if we knew how to reverse the hands of time and restart our bodies? Over the next few months, a small team of scientists and doctors will try to answer these questions with the ReAnima Project. With artificial intelligence and gene-modification already breaking new ground in their potential to enhance the human experience, medicine has taken a novel approach to the process of death itself – as something that could be reversible.
The National Institutes of Health in the US and in India have granted permission to Project ReAnima to recruit 20 clinically dead patients to assess whether their brains could be brought back to life.
Dr. Himanshu Bansal (Revita Life Sciences and Bioquark Inc.) and his team will administer several therapies, like injecting the brain with stem cells and a cocktail of peptides. Nerve stimulation techniques and lasers (which have been shown to lift patients out of deep comas) are also on the roster.
“With the convergence of the disciplines of regenerative biology, cognitive neuroscience, and clinical resuscitation, we are poised to delve into an area of scientific understanding previously inaccessible with existing technologies.” – Dr. Ira Pastor, CEO of Bioquark Inc.
Participants of the trial will only be kept alive through life support. In the next several months, they will be closely monitored using brain imaging equipment to identify any potential signs of regeneration in the lower brain stem – the region that controls independent breathing and heartbeat.
“This represents the first trial of its kind and another step towards the eventual reversal of death in our lifetime.”
The team hypothesizes that brain stem cells may be capable of erasing their history and re-starting life again, based on their surrounding tissue.
“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.” says Dr. Pastor.
They explain that this process is seen elsewhere in nature – for example, creatures like salamanders can regrow entire limbs after losing them. One might argue that no animal has the ability to live on or recover from actual death, but they do have remarkable regenerative properties that technology can mimic. Many amphibian, planarian and fish species can repair, regenerate, and remodel substantial portions of their brain and brain stem even after critical life-threatening trauma.
Dr. Sergei Paylian, Bioquark Inc.’s Founder, President and Chief Science Officer said in the press release,
“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 [Central Nervous System] conditions, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.”
As defined by the 1968 report of the Ad Hoc Committee of the Harvard Medical School, a person is confirmed as being dead when their brain stem function is permanently lost.
The fact, however, is that although brain-dead people are technically not alive, their bodies can still carry out a plethora of complex tasks. They can circulate blood, digest food, excrete waste, balance hormones, grow, sexually mature, heal wounds, spike a fever, and gestate and even deliver a baby. Recent studies have also suggested that brain-dead humans may have residual blood flow and spurts of electrical brain activity, albeit not enough for the organism to wholly function.
The first stage of Project ReAnima will happen at Anupam Hospital in Rudrapur, Uttarakhand, India and will be a non-randomised, single group trial.
Named First In Human Neuro-Regeneration & Neuro-Reanimation, the trial will be led by Dr. Bansal. Besides being non-randomized, the study will operate on an open-label, interventional and proof of concept basis. In stage one, the peptides will be administered through the spinal cord with a pump, with the stem cells given bi-weekly over a course of 6 weeks. Dr. Bansal says,
“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.”
Dr. Pastor adds,
“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.”
The trial has been making headlines, and as such has not been immune to criticism. Cardiff University’s neuroscientist Dr. Dean Burnett had this to say about the project,
“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.”
Scientists speculate that they will be able to see results in a few weeks’ time. For now, we wait.