With Halloween upon us, our thoughts may be more focused on ghouls and ghosts arriving at the door, than that Amazon package we’re expecting. As the undead walk the streets Halloween evening, our collective fascination with monsters and things that go bump in the night, is clearly evident. Last year science began to mirror this fascination in a controversial Frankenstein-y-ish bid at resurrecting the dead. And from what we know, the experiment is still ongoing.

When our lungs fail, they place us on a mechanical ventilator and when our heart stops beating, we use CPR. But when our brains stop working, we’re dead. There’s no return. Brain death is the clinical definition of “dead”.

A few scientists think they may be able to bring back those dead. Slated to take place in South America sometime this year and run by Philadelphia-based Bioquark, scientists will be injecting stem cells into the spinal cords of 20 people who have been declared clinically brain-dead. The subjects will also receive an injected protein blend, electrical nerve stimulation, and laser therapy directed at the brain.

The general idea is to deliver stem cells to the brain and coax them to grow into new brain cells, or neurons, with the help of a nurturing peptide cocktail, electrical nerve stimulation, and laser therapy. And they’re skipping the animal trials and attempting it on humans first.  

It’s been dubbed the “ReAnima” trials.

It’s caused quite an uproar in the scientific community, raising a myriad of questions and ethical considerations such as:

  • How do researchers fulfill something simple like completing trial paperwork when the person participating is legally dead?
  • Are we playing God?
  • If the person does regain brain activity, will they have any functional abilities?
  • Is it giving families a cruel, false hope for recovery?

The experiments were initially slated for clinical trials in Rudraphur, India, but the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) removed it from India’s clinical trial registry citing failure to seek permission to proceed from the Drug Controller General of India, and other regulatory lapses. Latin America is the new location for the trials.

Although they have been called “quacks” by some in the scientific community and criticized for not having a solid scientific foundation on which to base the trials, the researchers claim the study is based upon previous clinical successes.

Stem cell injections to the brain or spinal cord have shown some positive results for children with brain injuries. And trials using similar procedures to treat ALS and cerebral palsy have also been completed. In addition, one small study of 21 stroke patients found that they recovered more mobility after they received an injection of donor stem cells into the brains. For the researchers of ReAnima, it’s not just wishful thinking or an offering of false hope.

How will they know if the trials are working? Researchers will look to behavior and EEG for signs of life.


Research

1. These Scientists Have a Plan to Cheat Death. Will it Work? NBC News.
https://www.nbcnews.com/mach/science/these-scientists-have-plan-save-dying-brain-ncna778216

2. Resurrected: A controversial trial to bring the dead back to life plans a restart. StatNews.
https://www.statnews.com/2017/06/01/brain-death-trial-stem-cells/