The pigs were dead for an hour, but their cells were still active.

Scientists can now keep pigs alive by hooking them up to a system of pumps, filters and fluids thanks to a new system called OrganEx. The procedure doesn't restore the animals' brain function or pull the pigs back from the great beyond; rather, it ensures that certain cellular functions in the animals' vital organs keep going

The system could be used to help preserve and restore donated human organs in the future, according to a new study. It is possible to expand the number of organs available for transplant by reversing the effects of ischemia, in which an organ suffers damage from insufficient blood flow and oxygen supply.

Dr. Robert Porte, a professor in the department of surgery at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands who was not involved in the study, wrote in an accompanying commentary that such a device could be used in living humans.

The technology won't be applied to living humans in the near future.

How long can organs remain outside the body before being transplant?

Stephen Latham, director of the Yale Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics and co-author of the study, told reporters that this is far away from use in humans. The OrganEx system can restore some cellular functions in some organs after blood stops flowing to them, but the degree of recovery varies between organs.

We would need to study the degree to which ischemic damage is undone in different kinds of organs before we could attempt an experiment like this.

The team plans to study OrganEx in many more animal studies before thinking about applying the technology to humans, according to the co-author of the study.

How OrganEx works 

The researchers used a smaller version of the same system to restore some cellular and metabolic activity in the brain of a pig that had been decapitated during food production.

BrainEx pumped a liquid full of Hemopure through the brain's blood vessels. The liquid contained compounds meant to prevent blood clot formation and cells from self-destructing. When the brain is pumped through, it prevents the organ from swelling and allows certain functions to continue for up to four hours. The brain that was treated didn't produce any electrical signals associated with normal brain function.

The co-first author of the study said that cells don't die as quickly as we think. Scientists can save some cells if they step in soon.

The team scaled up their BrainEx system to perfuse a pig's entire body at once.

A device similar to a heart-lung machine is used to take over the role of the heart and lungs during surgeries. The pig blood and modified version of their synthetic, cell-saving liquid were pumped through the dead pigs' bodies. 13 compounds in their synthetic solution were intended to suppress inflammation, stop blood clot formation, prevent cell death and correct electrolyte imbalances.

A new study moves us closer to a universal transplant.

The team connected the pigs to the device after inducing cardiac arrest. They compared OrganEx-treated pigs to pigs with an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation system.

After six hours, the team found that ECMO didn't give enough blood to the animals' organs and many blood vessels had collapsed. OrganEx was able to improve the preservation of tissues throughout the body.

Over the six-hour experiment, OrganEx-treated pigs showed signs of cellular repair in the brain, heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, and pancreas. There were signs of electrical activity in the heart. Cells involved in cellular repair had been activated in the pigs' organs, but they hadn't been in the pigs that had been treated with ECMO.

The senior author of the study, Nenad Sestan, a professor of neuroscience at the Yale School of Medicine, said that the study shows that the demise of cells can be halted and their function restored in multiple vital organs.

In the future, OrganEx could be applied in the treatment of ischemia and in the preservation of transplant organs, particularly in the case of "donation after circulatory death," in which donated organs have been deprived of blood circulation for some time before transplant. More research is needed before the system can be used.

The research team wants to know how OrganEx restores cellular function in different animal organs. The synthetic solution needs to be adapted for use in human tissues. Latham said that ethical and practical concerns need to be addressed before using the system in living humans.

He asked, "What is the state to which a human being would be restored if they had been injured?" The goal of the study is to see if there is a closer and more realistic goal for the maintenance of organs for transplant.

It was originally published on Live Science