The Allure and Dangers of Experimenting with Brain-Dead Bodies

March 27, 2024

An empty hospital bed

(Undark) – In recent years, high-profile experiments implanting non-human organs into human bodies, a procedure known as xenotransplantation, have fueled rising interest in using brain-dead subjects to study procedures that are too risky to perform on living people. With the support of a ventilator and other equipment, a person’s heart, kidneys, immune system, and other body parts can function for days, sometimes weeks or more, after brain death. For researchers who seek to understand drug delivery, organ transplantation, and other complexities of human physiology, these bodies can provide a more faithful simulacrum of a living human being than could be achieved with animals or lab-grown cells and tissues.

But surging interest in xenotransplantation, predicted by some estimates to be a $25-billion-dollar industry within the next five years, has also elicited questions about the challenges these studies can pose to families and to the broader health care system. And it has renewed concerns about regulatory loopholes that in many countries allow those studies to be conducted with little oversight. (Read More)