Waking up the dead science fiction or a Halloween night horror movie? No, that’s the goal of Bioquark’s “ReAnima” project. The project aims to restore neuronal activity in brain dead people by combining several techniques: stem cell injection, nerve stimulation, and laser.
Stem cells are increasingly becoming a serious treatment option for many nervous disorders: Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, brain injuries, etc. So why not repair the brains of the dead to bring them back to life? This idea, worthy of a science fiction (or horror) film, is the crazy project of a company based in Philadelphia: Bioquark.
This is not the first time that the company wants to participate in such an experiment. In 2016, the ReAnima study was launched in Bangalore, India, together with Himanshu Bansal, an orthopedic surgeon at Anupam Hospital. His plan was to combine several techniques to “revive” 20 brain dead people.
ReAnima consisted of injecting patients with mesenchymal stem cells and peptides that help regenerate brain cells; these peptides were to be supplied by Bioquark. In addition to these injections, transcranial laser stimulation and nerve stimulation were planned. This project was stopped by the Indian authorities in November last year, as revealed then by Science magazine.
But the company did not admit defeat. This time, according to the company, they are close to finding a new location for their clinical trials. Ira Pastor, CEO of Bioquark, told the Stat website that the company would announce the process in Latin America in the coming months.
Ethical questions about a non-scientific experiment
If the experiment follows the same protocol as planned in India, it may involve 20 people. The clinical trial would again involve the injection of the patient’s stem cells, fat, blood… Then a mixture of peptides would be injected into the spinal cord to stimulate the growth of new nerve cells. This compound, called BQ-A, was tested on animal models with head trauma. In addition, the nerves would be stimulated by nerve stimulation and 15 days of laser therapy to stimulate the neurons to make nerve connections. Researchers could then monitor the effects of this treatment using electroencephalograms.
A process that would give families a false and cruel hope of recovery
But such a protocol raises many questions: How would a clinical trial be conducted on officially deceased people? If the person recovers some brain activity, in what state would he be? Will families be given false hope with a treatment that may take a long time?
There is no indication that such a protocol will work. The company has not even tested the entire treatment on animal models! The mentioned treatments, such as injection of stem cells or transcranial stimulation, were tested in other situations, but not in cases of brain death. In an article published in 2016, neurologist Ariane Lewis and bioethicist Arthur Caplan stressed that the experiment had no scientific basis and that it gave families “false and cruel hopes of a cure”.
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