A study published in Nature outlines how scientists at the University of Utah and Scripps Research restored life in human eyes after death. A team of researchers tracked activity in both mouse and human retinal cells soon after their passing. After only a few hours and a couple of tissue adjustments, scientists were able to revive the cells’ ability to communicate.
B-waves, which are specific electrical signals, are typically seen in living retinas and indicate active communication between cells. Scientists were able to reignite the deceased eye cells with light stimulation.
This novel discovery is the first of its kind, leading scientists to speculate further about death when pertaining to the central nervous system.
Biomedical scientist, Fatima Abbas from the University of Utah, said, “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. 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.”
Visual scientist, Frans Vinberg from the University of Utah, said, “We were able to make the retinal cells talk to each other, the way they do in the living eye to mediate human vision. Past studies have restored very limited electrical activity in organ donor eyes, but this has never been achieved in the macula, and never to the extent we have now demonstrated.”
Retinal cells prodded by the researchers reacted to light for just about five hours after passing; however, the b-wave signals immediately ceased due to a lack of oxygen.
The study authors wrote, “Since the retina is part of the CNS, our restoration of the b-wave in this study raises the question of whether brain death, as it is currently defined, is truly irreversible.”
Vinberg said, “The scientific community can now study human vision in ways that just aren’t possible with laboratory animals. 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.”
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