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Russians who raised the dead

[Sergei] Bryukhonenko…graduated from Moscow University Medical School in 1914, just in time to be drafted into the Imperial Russian Army and bear witness to the horrors of the First World War. After the Russian revolution, he worked for several years in a large hospital, before turning to his famous experiments. At the time, the field of physiology was maturing rapidly, and Bryukhonenko decided to study the intricate workings of the organs. To do so, it was necessary to keep individual organs functioning once they had been removed from their host. In a cramped and underequipped laboratory he set himself to the task of keeping organs alive.

In May 1925, at the meeting of the Second Congress of Russian Pathologists, Bryukhonenko demonstrated the fruits of three years’ labour in the lab: the original heart-lung machine that he had built for his dogs’ heads. Using two electric pumps, the primitive life-support system drew exhausted blood from the head and deposited it in a glass chamber where it was warmed and oxygenated, then pumped back into the animal. In these early days, this “autojektor” was not hermetically sealed, and eventually the blood supply would coagulate and the system would fail. Nevertheless, Bryukhonenko could keep a dog’s head alive for about one hundred minutes. His results were met with little fanfare, however, and failed to provoke any mention in the popular press. The following year he again demonstrated the autojektor, outlining the progress he and his colleague Sergei Chechulin had made in prolonging the lifespan of their test subjects. Again, there was no coverage.

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