This Week In Comments: July 24th—31st

Did you win our Comment Of The Week? Only if you're funny, eye-opening, and informative. 

Another week, another installment of our This Week In Comments series! Each week we pick a few of our favorites to showcase the awesomeness of our readership. Without further ado, here's what made the cut this week: 


Tech May Give Us a Life of Leisure in the Future. Is This What We Want?

Andrew Doser: The question is then, what is driving the economy? Fewer jobs = less consumption. Less consumption = fewer robots and a much smaller economy. Last I checked, corporations thrive because people with jobs, not robots, buy their stuff. Where does the money come from to feed this new leisure life paradigm? Robots don’t buy shit and drive economy, people do. Will universal income give you the lifestyle you are currently living? Or will it be barely enough to survive?

Caroline Nelson: That's when your education kicks in. You get the leisure of researching whatever you want without someone breathing over your shoulder. You define your own daily goals... imagine that.

How I Overcame Homelessness Twice to Become a Billionaire

Original comment presented for context: 

Gabriel Smith: He owns a liquor company and a rehab. I can appreciate the business acumen, but can't respect Gus Fring tactics. 

 

Ginger Haycox: I think you're missing something in your summation. Not all people who enjoy alcoholic drinks become addicts. He produces a company that supplies people with alcoholic drinks. And for those who suffer from addiction due to his product, then he's provided a place for them to get help. How many other companies, or company owners do that? The tobacco companies never did certainly, nor do the pharmaceutical companies provide for those who get addicted to their product. You look at this as having a double standard. I look at this as someone who is willing to help those less fortunate who don't tolerate a product.

Price of Lab-Grown Burger Falls from $325K to $11.36

 

Arlen Kundurt: The idea of meat that can be free of parasites and other meat-based pathogens, plus not killing an animal. What's not to love? Oh right, it's not "natural" so therefore that makes it dangerous. News flash people, plenty of "natural" things will kill you too. Made in a lab doesn't make something dangerous.

Dogs Are Better at Reading Emotions than We Thought

Matt Bowser: To all the people commenting on how obvious this is: For the 10000000th time, anecdotal evidence IS NOT evidence. This is why everybody's political opinions are so warped too, because people think everything's obvious from their own personal experience. As the article states, "the first demonstrative evidence of such an ability from non-primates" DEMONSTRATIVE. We all know how much our dogs can follow our emotions, but now it's proven through evidence and experimentation. People used to be happy when their biases were proven through science... Now science is apparently redundant because everyone believes their biases are objective truth.

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University of Cambridge
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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

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David McNew/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs

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