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WeaselFire
06-05-2012, 12:31 AM
I'm beta reading a manuscript that has a serial killer who kills people for their organs. The author has him freezing the person to death and then delivering the organs for defrosting and transplant. I know enough biology to understand that probably isn't the best option (otherwise we'd have stocks of frozen organs for transplant, right?).

So, what would be the best method of killing someone if the intent was organ harvesting? I realize most donors are accidental deaths, but can a murderer determine an optimum medical method to preserve the most organ value?

My guess is something like poison would be out because of potential damage to organs. Slicing a throat or draining blood would likewise probably cause issues? Strangulation maybe? Drowning? Broken neck? Brain destruction (assuming the brain won't be transplanted...)?

It has to be the signature of the killer from the way this story works out.

Thanks,

Jeff

auriel
06-05-2012, 01:30 AM
I'm thinking broken neck would be good - it's instant and harms nothing else in the body. Even strangulation would cause ischemia to the organs and could potentially harm them. Drowning would be the same, I'd think. The entire body suffers from lack of oxygenated blood. Possibly a stroke that causes brain death? If you could ensure that only the blood vessels in the brain are blocked. A natural stroke could be evidence of systemic blood vessel obstructions, which could potentially harm organs.

That's just me brainstorming. I only have enough knowledge to think theoretically. I'm sure you'll get more in-depth responses from smarter people :)

ETA: Another thing I thought of: It actually takes some time for people to freeze to death. A person could theoretically appear frozen and then if you re-warm them, they could regain consciousness. And then there's the possibility of ice crystals forming inside blood vessels and damaging organs that way. So yeah, freezing may not be the best way to go.

Bing Z
06-05-2012, 01:43 AM
Also not an expert in this area, amen. But...

I guess the reason why your author has the murderer use frozen organs is to keep a stock and sell as orders come. Since you've established that it's quite implausible, the murderer would then need to have received or gathered orders before he goes to harvest organs. In that case it's easy. He can use any method of killing as long as he is able to preserve the organs he is delivering. He may even be able to try a new method every time. :tongue + eeek.

ETA Oh. Signature. How about tied up to a bench breeding to death? IE, harvest done while still alive? :tongue x Eeek x more eeeks.

veinglory
06-05-2012, 03:25 AM
Freezing destroys cell membranes, so the organs would be mulch.

I wold suggest some kind of brain injury causing comma, wip the organs out fresh.

Otherwise and mechanical destruction of the brain and rapid harvest.

Storing on ice extends viability but the organs cannot be frozen and should be transplanted in a matter of hours.

espresso5
06-05-2012, 03:43 AM
When you freeze tissue, ice crystals form and destroy the plasma membrane, organelle membranes, and cytoskeletal strutures of cells. The formation of ice crystals also disrupts the osmotic balance, which can be harmful to a cell. If you don't freeze the tissues, then digestive proteins and contaminants eventually degrade the cells, even if you keep it at a cold (but slightly above freezing) temperature.
Long term storage of individual cells is done by putting them in a glycerol solution prior to freezing to avoid the formation of ice crystals. There has been quite a bit of research on tissue preservation for the purpose of cryopreservation of people after death. I'm not up on the latest research, but you might find some interesting information if you check out one of the cryopreservation sites.
In terms of the story, I would think somehow putting the victim in a comatose state and keeping them alive would be best. If they have to die, the killer could knock them out with ruphies or something and give them an IV of solution that would incorporate into the organs and prevent the tissues from being harmed upon freezing. The killer could then cut out the organs while the individual is still alive.

frimble3
06-05-2012, 04:21 AM
And, I'm no expert, but you can't just grab random organs. It looks as though they have to be matched for blood-type and other compatibility before implanting.
And there seems to be a huge 'timing' component. Every description I've read talks about the rush to get the organs to the recieving patient, there's a really narrow window of opportunity. You can't just hang onto a bunch of organs waiting for potential recipients, it's more like you have a patient ready and waiting, and then you go out and bag a suitable 'donor'. You'd have to have their medical records, to see if they might be a match, first.

Bufty
06-05-2012, 03:20 PM
Freezing to death? As in frozen solid? How does he intend to cut organs out yet alone deliver them in a usable state?

Doesn't sound as though the original writer did much research at all. If I were beta reading that I would shunt it back rather than do his research for him.

WeaselFire
06-05-2012, 03:59 PM
There are a number of other issues with the manuscript, one reason I'm reading it for the author. The concept is pretty cool, a "serial killer with a heart of gold" kind of take. In the part I have, there's no real motivation for the killer, one of the things I've commented on, and I don't know what the author is going to do. The main character is a detective who uncovers the pattern in the killings on the third body with missing organs and there's a red herring about cannibalism, but the villain isn't fleshed out enough to tell much yet.

I have a doctor's appointment this afternoon and I may ask them this question, I'll let you know what I find out.

Jeff

WeaselFire
06-05-2012, 04:50 PM
A colleague just answered this (helps to have a degree in biology). The technique is "pithing." You put a spike or rod into the spinal canal, destroying or severing the spinal cord. Death is painless, instant and all the biological functions are unaffected. Autonomous actions, such as the heart pumping blood, can even continue after clinical death.

So, an ice pick really works well. :)

Jeff

Pyekett
06-05-2012, 05:02 PM
Be careful about how your harvester plans the broken neck and/or severing of the spinal cord. If the break is high enough, you run the real risk of cutting off the nerve supply to the diaphragm, which mean no breathing-->no oxygen-->organs begin to fail very quickly.

Added: And this is an issue with any approach that actually kills the patient. Once the blood isn't being oxygenated, everything starts to shut down within minutes. This was the big problem with planned operating room harvesting of organs back when brain death was debated as being an acceptible cutoff to permit organ removal. If you had to wait until the heart stopped beating, you could recover so much less--seconds really do count. Brain death meant oxygenated blood could still be pumped to organs, and so there was time for surgical removal that wasn't there before.

The heart beating after death is a function of the tissue properties of that organ. But the beat isn't reliable, coordinated, or capable of doing anything meaningful with unoxygenated blood. Cool, though.

Here (http://angelsaves.dreamwidth.org/72997.html) is what reads like a good detailing of anatomy and certain diaphragm-risking injuries that result in spinal fracture. You definitely want to avoid these two, unless your evildoer has a mechanical ventilator (or something else that will suffice) right on hand at the attack site:


a C1 fracture, also called a jefferson fracture (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jefferson_fracture), can be caused by either an impact to the back of the head or strong rotation of the head. either or both of those could describe the steckel hit (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=i3mrw2eWLOo#t=8s) (be advised: link goes to 0:08 of a youtube video called Who Gave Sidney Crosby Concussion Caps Steckal or Lightning Hedman, so prepare yourself), when steckel's shoulder hits crosby's head.

a C2 fracture, also called a hangman's fracture (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hangman%27s_fracture), is caused by forceful hyperextension of the neck. it got its name from judicial hanging, but these days it's more commonly from the face or chin hitting a solid object during deceleration, like the dashboard or windshield if you drive into something, or like happens in the hedman hit (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=i3mrw2eWLOo#t=28s) (link goes to 0:28 of the above video), when crosby's face hits the glass after hedman boards him.

...

C1 and C2 are the vertebrae that christopher reeve broke (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Reeve#Injury) when he was thrown from his horse in 1995. one of the biggest issues reeve had was breathing, since spinal injuries that high can paralyze the diaphragm.

Bufty
06-05-2012, 05:05 PM
I don't follow how the heart continues to pump blood and all biological functions continue despite the party being 'clinically dead' and there being 'instantaneous death'.

And I'll just lie down and wait while someone gently inserts a spike into my spinal canal.

Hmmm...but then I don't have a degree in biology...


A colleague just answered this (helps to have a degree in biology). The technique is "pithing." You put a spike or rod into the spinal canal, destroying or severing the spinal cord. Death is painless, instant and all the biological functions are unaffected. Autonomous actions, such as the heart pumping blood, can even continue after clinical death.

So, an ice pick really works well. :)

Jeff

Pyekett
06-05-2012, 05:25 PM
I don't follow how the heart continues to pump blood and all biological functions continue despite the party being 'clinically dead' and there being 'instantaneous death'.

It does seem like quite a challenge to the poor body, eh?

I think the "heart still pumping" part comes from the inherent quality of heart tissue to try to contract. If you knock out the main pacemaker, another site of tissue that is also trying to rhythmically contract will take over. This is why isolated cardiac tissue in a nutrient bath can jerk with contractions.

But those secondary or tertiary sites of pacemaking necessarily beat slower (they are "overridden" by the primary pacemaker site, which is what keeps them from taking over in the first place) and with less coordination. More importantly, those heart muscle cells need oxygen and removal of waste, too. They will start to die quickly if they are deprived of oxygen.

I think it can be easy to conflate an interesting property of the tissue in vitro with what one may want to happen in vivo. In the biological lab is one thing; in the body is another. Airway, Breathing, and Circulation, or the tissues start to die very quickly. Circulation isn't any good unless there is breathing, and the breathing is useless without the airway open to bring in oxygen. Unless you have some mechanical substitutes for these, of course.