When do we die? Medical science has pushed back the barriers to survival again and again. There are many people alive today that survived strokes, heart attacks and other once-fatal conditions. But sometimes, there is no avoiding the grim reaper. Right?
A biotech company is about to push again at one of those barriers. And it’s going to push hard.
I don’t know if the project is awe-inspiring or terrifying. Maybe it’s both.
What is death?
There are two ways of determining death right now. The first is when damage to internal organs means the respiratory and circulatory systems shut down. The second is brain death.
Brain death occurs when there is not enough brain activity to maintain life. Brain dead people can be kept alive artificially, but the brain damage is so severe that there is no hope of recovery. Or at least, there was no hope.
A company called Bioquark Inc. has just received the go-ahead from an ethical committee to literally try to reverse brain death. Along with other treatments, they plan to use stem cells to regrow the damaged parts of the brain. The experiment could be the first step in dragging clinically dead people back into the world of the living.
Stem Cells versus Death
Bioquark will treat twenty brain dead patients that are currently on life support. They are seeking suitable patients that suffered traumatic brain injuries. Stem cells will be injected into the damaged regions of the patients’ brains to see if this will stimulate the growth of new brain cells. Other techniques that have proven to be useful in coma patients will also be used.
The patients will be monitored for several months in the hope that the brain tissue regenerates. While this is still early days, similar treatment has had limited success with two previous cases.
According to The Telegraph, the CEO of Bioquark, Dr. Ira Pastor hopes that this research could eventually lead to the “reversal of death in our lifetime.”
“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,” Dr. Ira Pastor
While this is just a first step, it does raise many questions. Is it possible? Nobody knows. And if it is, what will the treatment do the people who survive death? Will the person have the same personality or a totally different one? Will they have the same, or even any memories? Nobody knows. It’s likely that every case would be different. It would likely depend on which areas of the brain is damaged and then repaired. We can only imagine what they will have to relearn, or what stories their brains will come up with to explain their experiences. One day death might lead to a second birth, only this time in an adult’s body with a lifetime of forgotten experiences. Or not. At this stage we simply do not know.
Good Or Bad?
Is there a point where medical science should just let people die? Maybe, but that’s easy to say objectively. It’s entirely another matter when the person is a loved one.
Also, without this type of research we will never know how close to death we can get before turning back. Even if the experiment fails, it will provide valuable insights into treatments for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other brain disorders.
Maybe the unease that I’m feeling is simply from too many Hollywood movies. You know the ones. (Nobody mention the ‘Z’ word…)
What do you think? Valid and exciting research or a step too far?