Thursday, 6 July 2017

Progress in Reviving the Brain Dead

So many of us have lost relatives or friends to accidents and conditions resulting in brain death, and even if we haven't, many would like to see the end of such tragedies. Fortunately, some good news is developing. Revita Life Sciences, a company focused on advancing regenerative medicine, has announced that its clinical trials on interventions for brain death will continue. This comes after their study was inappropriately removed from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) database, despite the fact that this council has no regulatory oversight on such research in India.

Bringing back those who have
drowned was once a new idea!
Source: Wellcome Images
So-called "moral crusaders" accuse Revita Life of "playing God", and assumed that the removal meant that the Indian government was on their side. However, the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO), Drug Controller General of India, had no objection to the trial. Regulatory approval is not required for research on those who are legally dead, although consent from the IRB and family members is still necessary. Death is defined as the cessation of the biological functions that keep us alive. Brain death is the loss of brain function, including involuntary processes such as breathing, and is the legal definition of death. It is also the final pathological process that over 60 million people suffer each year, and it is hoped that at least some of these people will be saved in the future by this research.

What this study primarily involves is the intrathecal administration (injection into the spinal canal) of the patient's own stem cells, derived from their fat and bone marrow tissue, twice a week. Of course, a list of other interventions is being used too, hence the study title of “Non-randomized, Open-labelled, Interventional, Single Group, and Proof of Concept Study with Multi-modality Approach in Cases of Brain Death Due to Traumatic Brain Injury Having Diffuse Axonal Injury”. It sounds like a mouthful, but a more pleasant one than hospital staff telling you to say goodbye to someone you love. So far, initial outcomes range from minor blood pressure changes with painful stimuli, to eye opening and finger movements with temporary or permanent EEG pattern changes. This is impressive for the first human trial on reversing "irreversible" damage to the most difficult to heal organ. But perhaps a simple natural intervention could complement it? There have been at least a couple of cases where high doses of fish oil were able to promote healing from brain injury, by both stopping the inflammation which continues to kill neurons, and stimulating cell growth. Both of these patients were in a coma.

While essentially resurrecting the brain dead is controversial now, consider this: resuscitation of people who had drowned was once a very new and probably controversial concept. In the 1760s (when learning to swim would have been out of reach for most), a few wealthy Dutch men decided to form a society focusing on recovering drowned people. With the techniques and ethical changes they began to develop, they saved many lives, perhaps including someone you know. Like me, you may have also had to learn them yourself. Life extension has a much more human face than the popular fear that we will all be forced to become cyborgs or androids. In fact, humanity is strengthening as a result.

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