Zombie Cells: When Fiction Bleeds Into Reality

Image courtesy of David Andrijevic.

Images of the “living dead” linger in our minds: Frankenstein resurrecting his monster, zombies stumbling around with contorted limbs, and what seems to be a never-ending stream of episodes of “The Walking Dead”. But is it possible to bring a mammal back from the dead? A research team at the Yale School of Medicine says yes, at least on the cellular level. Using a new technology termed OrganEx, scientists have successfully restored cellular functions in dead pigs.

A team of scientists explored the possibility of preventing cell death in large mammalian bodies. Per Yale University’s ethical guidelines, the scientists induced fatal cardiac arrest in female pigs. An hour after their death, these same pigs were hooked up to the OrganEx system, a two-part device equipped with oxygenation machines and a synthetic solution. Since cells do not die instantly, this technology allowed researchers to intervene during the cell death process and reverse it. The changes were remarkable: oxygen and metabolic levels went back to normal, circulation was restored, and organs showed fewer signs of damage than with previous technology.

While not the key to zombies, this discovery answers important issues in healthcare. For David Andrijevic, a leading co-author from the department of neuroscience, the potential applications are staggering. “If you can recover the organs after loss of blood flow for so long, then we might actually increase an organ donor pool for organ transplantation,” Andrijevic said. Future developments will focus on expanding these results to the clinical setting. Perhaps zombies should take a hint from scientists—how else will fiction become a reality?