Researchers have developed a high-tech support system that can keep a large mammalian brain from rapidly decomposing in the hours after death, enabling study of certain molecular and cellular functions. With funding through the National Institutes of Health BRAIN Initiative, researchers developed a way to deliver an artificial blood supply to the isolated postmortem brain of a pig, preventing the degradation that would otherwise destroy many cellular and molecular functions and render it unsuitable for study. Importantly, although the researchers saw some preservation of flow through blood vessels and energy use, there was no higher level functional activity in the brain circuits. The scientific team, led by Nenad Sestan, M.D., Ph.D., of Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, reports on their findings in the journal Nature.
“This line of research could lead to a whole new way of studying the postmortem brain,” explained Andrea Beckel-Mitchener, Ph.D., BRAIN Initiative Team Lead at the NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health, which co-funded the research. “The new technology opens up opportunities to examine complex cell and circuit connections and functions that are lost when specimens are preserved in other ways. It also could stimulate research to develop interventions that promote brain recovery after loss of brain blood flow, such as during a heart attack.”