Pickled Brains

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amylizzle
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Pickled Brains

Postby amylizzle » Fri May 17, 2013 7:24 pm UTC

Say my body got cancer, and was going to die. Would it be possible to remove my brain, stick it in a jar and create some sort of artificial blood supply system to keep it oxygenated and fed?

It all seems feasible to me (a computer scientist with no real knowledge of biology), but it doesn't seem like anybody's actually done it...

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Re: Pickled Brains

Postby screen317 » Fri May 17, 2013 7:28 pm UTC

Doubt your insurance would cover that one.

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Re: Pickled Brains

Postby dudiobugtron » Fri May 17, 2013 7:51 pm UTC

Here are some wikipedia articles that seem relevant:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brain_transplant
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brain%E2%8 ... _interface

If you wanted your brain to stay viable indefinitely, you would need to also replace a lot of the brain cells that need replacing. Otherwise your brain would probably eventually die of some sort of neurodegenerative disease.
Also you would probably go completely mad anyway just from only being a brain.
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Re: Pickled Brains

Postby idobox » Fri May 17, 2013 9:54 pm UTC

Keeping organs alive outside the body is difficult(impossible with modern technology?). It's why timing is so important for organ transplants.
And the brain is very sensitive, it dies after a few tens of second without oxygen.
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Re: Pickled Brains

Postby ThirdParty » Sun May 19, 2013 6:09 am UTC

idobox wrote:Keeping organs alive outside the body is difficult(impossible with modern technology?).
I wouldn't say "impossible". Here is a device that keeps a heart alive and beating outside the body, and here is a more complicated one for livers. The brain shouldn't be too much harder; they've been doing successful head transplants of non-human animals for decades.

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Re: Pickled Brains

Postby Izawwlgood » Sun May 19, 2013 12:12 pm UTC

What you are describing is science fiction on every level. We can, at best, keep simple organs alive out of a body for about 24 hrs. You're talking about taking the most complex organ, that isn't even bathed in blood, and not only housing it, but developing tools to interact with your sensorium while in a vat.

The simple answer is no. The detailed answer is not by a long shot.
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Re: Pickled Brains

Postby stianhat » Sun May 19, 2013 10:22 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:What you are describing is science fiction on every level. We can, at best, keep simple organs alive out of a body for about 24 hrs. You're talking about taking the most complex organ, that isn't even bathed in blood, and not only housing it, but developing tools to interact with your sensorium while in a vat.

The simple answer is no. The detailed answer is not by a long shot.


Given that its a childs brain it would probably learn how to sense changes in its jar and interpret them. it would need some kind of appendage to manipulate its surroundings or else it would probably go mental anyway.

And it would be unethical on a scale close to genocide to try.

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Re: Pickled Brains

Postby Izawwlgood » Mon May 20, 2013 3:09 am UTC

I don't think you understand what 'stimulus' means. Nor how extreme the technology gap between providing it with 'some kind of appendage' would be. But the question was;
Say my body got cancer, and was going to die. Would it be possible to remove my brain, stick it in a jar and create some sort of artificial blood supply system to keep it oxygenated and fed?

It all seems feasible to me (a computer scientist with no real knowledge of biology), but it doesn't seem like anybody's actually done it...

So, I don't see why you're assuming a childs brain?
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Re: Pickled Brains

Postby Thesh » Mon May 20, 2013 10:04 am UTC

Until we learn how to repair severed spinal cords I don't think a brain transplant would even be practical, let alone feasible.
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Re: Pickled Brains

Postby stianhat » Mon May 20, 2013 12:26 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:I don't think you understand what 'stimulus' means. Nor how extreme the technology gap between providing it with 'some kind of appendage' would be.

snippety snip

So, I don't see why you're assuming a childs brain?


Well, childrens brains are in fact brains in a vat. It does not have many instructions on how to cope with its surroundings, but it is electrically connected to tissue sensitive to light, and it is electrically connected to a brainstem and a spinal chord which does have appendages at its control. It can manipulate its surroundings and interpret the feedback. In time it learns the abstract notion of simulating the world outside and understanding it.

Now, can a "grown-ups" brain do the same thing? Not so sure. Countless examples show that children heal better from brain trauma and other significant changes to how it either manipulates surroundings or senses them. But as I said - not sure.

What I am certain of is that if you are cut off from stimulus - your sensory apparatus (eyes, ears, skin, etc) and / or your manipulative appendages, or so I called it (fingers, hands, vocal cords, feet) your brain will either start making its own interpretations on its own - in effect you go mental, or you will slowly lose all memories and abilities and go veggie - since the brain is a giant pattern-recognition machine and where there are no patterns I am leaning towards the belief that it will lose them all if unused.

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Re: Pickled Brains

Postby Izawwlgood » Mon May 20, 2013 12:27 pm UTC

stianhat wrote:Well, childrens brains are in fact brains in a vat.
No, childrens brains are in fact brains in a childs body. I think you're forgetting what a vat is.
stianhat wrote:in effect you go mental, or you will slowly lose all memories and abilities and go veggie
Er...
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Re: Pickled Brains

Postby stianhat » Mon May 20, 2013 12:35 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:No, childrens brains are in fact brains in a childs body. I think you're forgetting what a vat is.
[
Well, I did not mean "fact" more as in practicality.

Why do children loll about and are unable to walk, focus their eyes, communicate or predict any events at all? Because the brain has not (yet) made sense of its surroundings - more to the point, it does not have any patterns that helps it make predictions or simulations of them.

The brain does not "have" a body, it is connected to one, electrically and recieves nutrition from it through the blood/brain barrier. What you are suggesting is just removing the body and replace its nutrition. It needs to be connected to something in order to be what you want it to be is my significantly shorter answer.

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Re: Pickled Brains

Postby Izawwlgood » Mon May 20, 2013 12:42 pm UTC

*Infants* roll around because they have not finished developing; their neurons are unmylinated, their eyes cannot properly focus, their bones are almost entirely uncalcified, and their muscles woefully weak. Humans give birth extraordinarily premature; it is an adaptation to allow our brains to develop further than our females pelvis' would allow.

stianhat wrote:What you are suggesting is just removing the body and replace its nutrition.
Well, the OP is suggesting it. I'm one of the people pointing out that the word 'just' in that sentence incredibly misleading, because what follows is presently entirely impossible on every level.
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Re: Pickled Brains

Postby stianhat » Mon May 20, 2013 4:45 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:Well, the OP is suggesting it. I'm one of the people pointing out that the word 'just' in that sentence incredibly misleading, because what follows is presently entirely impossible on every level.
Sorry, mixed ya up there, and we are both in agreement on that. I have just tried to paint the more basic question... why =P

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Re: Pickled Brains

Postby Copper Bezel » Mon May 20, 2013 5:36 pm UTC

Why do it, or why wouldn't it work? Izzawlgood is saying that he's aware that you can't "just" replace the life support aspects and that the brain needs to interface with senses etc., but he also explained why even the first part of the problem (how to keep the brain alive outside of a body) can't really happen anyway, whether or not you're even worried about interfacing it with something. I think that's a more basic question.
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Re: Pickled Brains

Postby amylizzle » Mon May 20, 2013 6:23 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:What you are describing is science fiction on every level. We can, at best, keep simple organs alive out of a body for about 24 hrs. You're talking about taking the most complex organ, that isn't even bathed in blood, and not only housing it, but developing tools to interact with your sensorium while in a vat.

The simple answer is no. The detailed answer is not by a long shot.

Aww :(

I feel like I'm missing something obvious here, but surely it's just a matter of providing a suitable environment (ie, temperature, pressure, nutrients, oxygen, hormones, etc.)?

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Re: Pickled Brains

Postby Izawwlgood » Mon May 20, 2013 6:45 pm UTC

amylizzle wrote:I feel like I'm missing something obvious here, but surely it's just a matter of providing a suitable environment (ie, temperature, pressure, nutrients, oxygen, hormones, etc.)?
Yeah, hypothetically sure. Putting aside that that is actually much harder than you think, it's the strategy employed by this technology.

It was kind of mentioned earlier, but I'm linking it here to give you an idea of the difficulty of what you're proposing. We're quite good at transplanting livers, and the liver is a reasonably simple organ that is fairly durable. It's potentially more complicated than a heart, but the point is, this represents the pinnacle of our present day medical technology, and it was a breakthrough to increase the survival of a liver outside a human body to ~24 hrs.

The brain is orders of magnitude more complex than the liver. Removing the brain is orders of magnitude more complex than removing a liver. No joke; every step of the way in what you're thinking about is beyond the scope of current medical technology.
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Re: Pickled Brains

Postby amylizzle » Mon May 20, 2013 7:22 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:Yeah, hypothetically sure. Putting aside that that is actually much harder than you think, it's the strategy employed by this technology.

Please could you explain why? I'm having trouble finding an explanation anywhere on google, and you seem to have a knowledge of the subject.

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Re: Pickled Brains

Postby stianhat » Mon May 20, 2013 9:15 pm UTC

Copper Bezel wrote:Why do it, or why wouldn't it work? Izzawlgood is saying that he's aware that you can't "just" replace the life support aspects and that the brain needs to interface with senses etc., but he also explained why even the first part of the problem (how to keep the brain alive outside of a body) can't really happen anyway, whether or not you're even worried about interfacing it with something. I think that's a more basic question.


Well, the *why* I was talking about is... if you have no plan to attach this brain to some sensory organs... it will feel like dying (probably, I dont know, the way I vision it) - just a death-like situation that lasts untill your brain is mentally deteriorated and non functional.

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Re: Pickled Brains

Postby Izawwlgood » Mon May 20, 2013 9:43 pm UTC

stianhat wrote:
Copper Bezel wrote:Why do it, or why wouldn't it work? Izzawlgood is saying that he's aware that you can't "just" replace the life support aspects and that the brain needs to interface with senses etc., but he also explained why even the first part of the problem (how to keep the brain alive outside of a body) can't really happen anyway, whether or not you're even worried about interfacing it with something. I think that's a more basic question.


Well, the *why* I was talking about is... if you have no plan to attach this brain to some sensory organs... it will feel like dying (probably, I dont know, the way I vision it) - just a death-like situation that lasts untill your brain is mentally deteriorated and non functional.

So, this is all science fiction, but my best guess is that the five senses aspect of the sensory deprivation is actually not the worst part of this mess; not having proper endocrine signaling from the rest of the body is probably going to make this brain go haywire very very quickly. But lets assume we can recapitulate every single bodily input [EDIT: By which I mean hormonal/chemical] that goes into a brain to tell it 'all systems nominal', then yeah, the lack of visual, spatiotemporal, and auditory information would probably cause some issues. That said, 'faking' visual and auditory stimuli is something we can do.

amylizzle wrote:Please could you explain why? I'm having trouble finding an explanation anywhere on google, and you seem to have a knowledge of the subject.
What's your question? Why is it hard to do? Endocrine signaling is a pretty complex thing; organs (the brain being one) have more needs than just oxygen. Proper chemical balance (pH, osmolarity, temperature) must be fairly delicately maintained, and the host of hormones required to signal to the organ is probably A ) not fully fleshed out and B ) pretty tricky to mimic.

And, again, the brain is the most complex of them all.
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Re: Pickled Brains

Postby screen317 » Mon May 20, 2013 9:49 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:and the host of hormones required to signal to the organ is probably A ) not fully fleshed out
Though quite an understatement, this. It is far from being fully characterized.

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Re: Pickled Brains

Postby dudiobugtron » Mon May 20, 2013 10:18 pm UTC

So, the brain is hard to keep alive outside of the body, but each of the other organs can be removed and replaced without the brain dying, right? So couldn't we just incrementally remove all of the host's body parts and replace them with new ones? So a 'brain transplant' would actually be an 'everything else' transplant.
To get the brain into a 'vat' instead of another body, you'd just need to use artificial body parts.

I can see why you might not be able to replace the skull or brain-holding-things though. But perhaps you could replace those piece-by-piece?
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Re: Pickled Brains

Postby Izawwlgood » Mon May 20, 2013 10:22 pm UTC

dudiobugtron wrote:So, the brain is hard to keep alive outside of the body, but each of the other organs can be removed and replaced without the brain dying, right? So couldn't we just incrementally remove all of the host's body parts and replace them with new ones? So a 'brain transplant' would actually be an 'everything else' transplant.
To get the brain into a 'vat' instead of another body, you'd just need to use artificial body parts.

I can see why you might not be able to replace the skull or brain-holding-things though. But perhaps you could replace those piece-by-piece?
No. The brain requires input from, AFAIK, every organ in the body. For any exceptions to this (maybe the lungs and... that's it?), they directly affect a system that is very important to the brain (blood oxygen and CO2 levels). You'd basically have to chemically (hormonally) mimic the presence of every organ, which is pretty science fiction.
The 'just need to use artificial body parts' again underlines how insanely complicated your 'just' is.

And removing the skull isn't the hard part; we, afterall, can do some pretty invasive brain surgeries. Removing or separating the spine however, is likely impossible. You have to sever the nerves that propagate out of the spine, which is in and of itself probably impossible to do without causing a host of problems.
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Re: Pickled Brains

Postby dudiobugtron » Mon May 20, 2013 10:41 pm UTC

Yeah, I was thinking more of brain transplants than actual brain-in-a-vat: but it sounds like to do a brain transplant, you'd need to transplant the spine too.
Izawwlgood wrote:The brain requires input from, AFAIK, every organ in the body. For any exceptions to this (maybe the lungs and... that's it?), they directly affect a system that is very important to the brain (blood oxygen and CO2 levels).

What do you mean by 'requires input'? Does it require input from, for eg: the gall bladder, mammary gland, stomach etc... ?
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Re: Pickled Brains

Postby idobox » Tue May 21, 2013 10:21 pm UTC

The brain is responsible for homoeostasis, which is a fancy word for keeping your temperature, blood pressure and concentration of various stuff in a good range. To do that, it receives a lot of hormonal/chemical information from the body, and we have no idea what would happen to the brain if you were to remove them.

Keeping the brain alive means giving it oxygen, water, nutrients (and there is a bunch of them), removing waste and enforcing immunity.It might seem easy, but it isn't. Most of your body, once you remove the muscles and skin, is just a big machine to provide that. You need bone marrow and a number of glands to have a proper immune system, liver, pancreas, kidneys and a few other glands to regulate chemicals levels, etc...
To give you an idea, the kidney is mostly a filter, and to replicate it's function, we need this machine http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dialysis, and the survival rate is 33% after 5 years (obviously, people who have lost their kidneys are often sick). And we're just talking about removing excess water, urea and a few other chemicals. We have no idea where to start to replace liver function, and liver failure is usually lethal in hours to days.
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Re: Pickled Brains

Postby amylizzle » Wed May 22, 2013 12:18 pm UTC

idobox wrote:The brain is responsible for homoeostasis, which is a fancy word for keeping your temperature, blood pressure and concentration of various stuff in a good range. To do that, it receives a lot of hormonal/chemical information from the body, and we have no idea what would happen to the brain if you were to remove them.

Keeping the brain alive means giving it oxygen, water, nutrients (and there is a bunch of them), removing waste and enforcing immunity.It might seem easy, but it isn't. Most of your body, once you remove the muscles and skin, is just a big machine to provide that. You need bone marrow and a number of glands to have a proper immune system, liver, pancreas, kidneys and a few other glands to regulate chemicals levels, etc...
To give you an idea, the kidney is mostly a filter, and to replicate it's function, we need this machine http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dialysis, and the survival rate is 33% after 5 years (obviously, people who have lost their kidneys are often sick). And we're just talking about removing excess water, urea and a few other chemicals. We have no idea where to start to replace liver function, and liver failure is usually lethal in hours to days.

Thanks for the explanation, that's pretty much exactly what I wanted to know.

So just to be absolutely sure, the reason we are unable to sustain organs outside of the body is because we are unable to correctly emulate the complex environment produced by the other organs working together?

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Re: Pickled Brains

Postby Izawwlgood » Wed May 22, 2013 1:40 pm UTC

Basically. Ever hear the quip, the body is the life support system for the brain?
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