Scientists from Switzerland and the US were able to achieve something miraculous—some might even say Biblical: bringing dead human cells back to life!
The team published a study that opens by defining death as the irreversible cessation of circulatory, respiratory, or brain activity. The paper goes on to detail how they “woke up” light-sensing cells in the eyes of human organ donors five hours after death. This breakthrough is hopefully a gateway to new methods of extending the shelf life of donor organs as well as new ways to treat eye diseases.
“We were able to wake up photoreceptor cells in the human macula, which is the part of the retina responsible for our central vision and our ability to see fine detail and color,” explains the lead author of the study Fatima Abbas. “In eyes obtained up to five hours after an organ donor’s death, these cells responded to bright light, colored lights, and even very dim flashes of light.”
Initially, the researchers were only able to revive photoreceptors, but couldn’t get them to communicate with other cells in the retina. After hypothesizing that the issue was a lack of oxygen, the team adjusted their method by keeping the cells oxygenated for longer periods of time. With that extra time, the retina and neuron cells were “brought back to life.”
The team is optimistic about the chances that this research will lead to ways to reverse some types of blindness.
“The scientific community can now study human vision in ways that just aren’t possible with laboratory animals,” says co-author of the study Frans Vinberg. “We hope this will motivate organ donor societies, organ donors, and eye banks by helping them understand the exciting new possibilities this type of research offers.”