If we can preserve the organs, we may expect to also keep alive the tissues and cells of which they are composed.
Alexis Carrel Transplants Blood Vessels and Organs, our series on early twentieth century advances in the life sciences published shortly after Alexis Carrel won the Noble Prize his work on vascular suture and the transplantation of blood vessels and organs in 1912.
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The other muscular organs have naturally been investigated in a manner analogous to that which has been used for the heart; and for the same reason, because it can be readily seen whether or not they are alive. The striated muscles survive for quite a long time after removal, especially if they are preserved at the temperature of the body and care is taken to prevent their drying. By this method many investigations have been made of muscular contractions in isolated muscles. Landois has noted that the muscles of a man may be made to contract two hours and a half after removal, those of the frog and the tortoise 10 days after. Recently Burrows (1911) has noted a slight increase in the myotomes of the embryo chick after they have been kept for 2 to 6 days in coagulated plasma.
Non-muscular organs may also survive a removal from the parent organism, but the proofs of their survival are more difficult to establish because of the absence of movements. Carrel (1906) grafted fragments of vessels that had been in cold storage for several days upon the course of a vessel of a living animal of the same species; in 1907 he grafted upon the abdominal aorta of a cat a segment of the jugular vein of a dog removed 7 days previously, also a segment of the carotid of a dog removed 20 days before; the circulation was reestablished normally; these experiments have, however, been criticized by Fleig, who thinks that the grafted fragments were dead and served merely as supports and directors for the regeneration of the vessels upon which they were set. In 1909 Carrel removed the left kidney from a bitch, kept it out of the body for 50 minutes, and then replaced it; the extirpation of the other kidney did not cause the death of the animal, which remained for more than a year normal and in good health, thus proving the success of the graft. In 1910 Carrel succeeded with similar experiments on the spleen.
Taken altogether, these experiments show that the greater part, if not all, of the bodily organs are able to survive for more or less time after removal from the organism when favorable conditions are furnished. There is no doubt but what the observed times of survival may be considerably prolonged when we have a better knowledge of the serums that are most favorable and the physical and chemical conditions that are most advantageous.
If we can preserve the organs, we may expect to also keep alive the tissues and cells of which they are composed. Biologists have studied these problems, too, and have also obtained in this department some very interesting results.
The cells which live naturally isolated in the organism, such as the corpuscles of the blood and spermatozoa, were the first studied. Since 1910 experiments on the survival of tissues have multiplied and at the same time more knowledge has been obtained concerning the conditions most favorable to survival and the microscopical appearances of the tissues so preserved. In 1910 Harrison, having placed fragments of an embryo frog in a drop of coagulated lymph taken from an adult, saw them continue their development for several weeks, the muscles and the epithelium differentiating, the nervous rudiments sending out into the lymph filaments similar to nerve fibers. Since 1910 with the aid of Dr. Minot, I have succeeded in preserving alive the nerve cells of the spinal ganglia of adult dogs and rabbits by placing them in defibrinated blood of the same animal, through which there bubbled a current of oxygen. At zero and perhaps better at 15B0-20B0, the structure of the cells and their colorable substance is preserved without notable change for at least four days; moreover, when the temperature is raised again to 39B0, certain of the cells give a proof of their survival by forming new prolongations, often of a monstrous character. At 39B0 some of the ganglion cells which have been preserved rapidly lose their colorability and then their structure breaks up, but a certain number of the others form numerous outgrowths extremely varied in appearance. We have, besides, studied the influence of isotony, of agitation, and of oxygenation, and these experiments have enabled me to ascertain the best physical conditions required for the survival of nervous tissue. In 1910, Burrows, employing the technique of Harrison, obtained results similar to his with fragments of embryonic chickens. Since 1910 Carrel and Burrows applied the same method to what they call the “culture” of the tissues of the adult dog and rabbit; they have thus preserved and even multiplied cells of cartilage, of the thyroid, the kidney, the bone marrow, the spleen, of cancer, etc. Perhaps Carrel and his collaborators may be criticized for calling “culture” that which is merely a survival, but there still remains in their work a great element of real interest.
Such are, too briefly summarized, the experiments which have been made up to the present time. We can readily imagine the practical consequences which we may very shortly hope to derive from them, and the wonderful applications of them which will follow in the domain of surgery. Without going so far as the dream of Dr. Moreau depicted by Wells, since grafts do not succeed between animals of different species, we may hope that soon, in many cases, the replacing of organs will be no longer impossible, but even easy, thanks to methods of conservation and survival which will enable us to have always at hand material for exchange.
The dream of today may be reality tomorrow.
There are also other consequences which will follow from these researches. I hope that they will permit us to study the physical and chemical factors of life under much simpler conditions than heretofore, and it is toward this end that I am directing my researches. They will enable us to approach much nearer the solution of the old insoluble problem of life and death. What indeed is the death of an organism all of whose parts may yet survive for some time?
These, then, are the researches made in this domain, fecund from every point of view, and the great increase in the number of experts who are taking them up, while it is a proof of their interest, gives hope for their rapid progress.
This ends our series of passages on Alexis Carrel Transplants Blood Vessels and Organs published shortly after Alexis Carrel won the Noble Prize his work on vascular suture and the transplantation of blood vessels and organs in 1912. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.