The number of people signing up for cryonics has gradually been increasing over the last few years. More and more people are signing up for cryonics preservation – some have even made a down payment for the new life extension practice. There are around 500 people currently under cryopreservation.
But what is cryonics? Well, cryonics is basically freezing the body under very low temperatures until a future date when medical research has found a cure for the disease that led to the person’s demise, at which point the ‘dead’ body will be thawed and resurrected.
However, the real question is not whether the field of medicine will be advanced enough in the future, but whether the cryopreserved bodies will be revived. This has been a major source of concern for this new medical field that promises life after many years of death.
Fortunately, there have been two advances that have made human cryonics a little less unconvincing than it was before, as outlined hereinafter.
When cells are frozen, they are filled with ice crystals which expand and destroy them. This results in mushed-up tissues when the body is thawed. Vitrification solves this problem by replacing the blood in the dead body with an antifreeze mixture.
The antifreeze mixture forms a solid, glass-like structure when frozen below -90°C, which disrupts the crystal-forming process. Water molecules find it harder to come together and form a solid lattice when other larger molecules are getting in their way.
How vitrification works
Once the heart stops and a person is “legally” pronounced dead, an emergency team stabilizes the body, supplying oxygen to the brain to maintain minimal function.
The body is then injected with an anticoagulant to prevent blood clots, packed in ice, and transported to the cryonics institute.
At the facility, the cryonics team replaces the blood in the body with a cryoprotectant, also known as antifreeze. The body is then cooled in dry ice to below -130°C in order to complete the vitrification process.
Recent breakthrough in vitrification
Although vitrification prevents organ damage, the technique shrinks organs to half their initial size due to osmotic dehydration. This is a major setback as it makes electronic microscopic evaluation impossible.
Luckily, in 2016, McIntyre and Greg Fahy of 21st Century Medicine, a cryobiological research company, found a potential solution to this problem. They demonstrated that a form of vitrification known as aldehyde-stabilized cryopreservation (ASC) could excellently preserve rabbit and pig brains. The brain tissues were initially perfused-fixed with a glutaraldehyde-based fixative, followed by a cryoprotectant agent.
21CM tested this technique on whole brains and stored them at -135°C. The vitrified brains were then thawed and the antifreeze removed by perfusion or diffusion from slices. A few parts were selected and prepared for electron microscopic evaluation. The electron micrographs showed great ultrastructural preservation of the whole brain.
The perfusion of glutaraldehyde almost instantly stops cellular decay and locks important molecules (receptor proteins and ion channels) in place. This allows for optimal perfusion of the cryoprotectant under optimal conditions, preventing osmotic dehydration and shrinkage.
ASC has a few potential advantages over other cryopreservation techniques. For example, chemicals are delivered to the tissues through perfusion, allowing for the preservation of brains of any size. It also preserves the ultrastructure of the brain even when stored for extended periods.
Despite the challenges, researchers have successfully continued to freeze and rewarm larger tissues. The vitrification process has made significant strides in infertility treatment where it is used to freeze and thaw eggs and embryos.
There is no doubt that researchers are making major advances in the medical and technology fields. Hopefully they’ll be able to successfully use the technique on organs first and eventually on entire organisms.
Cryopreservation before death
For your body to be cryopreserved, you have to be legally dead, and to increase your chances of resurrection, freezing should be done within a few hours of death.
In order to shorten the time after death and the start of the verification procedure, people may want to choose the option of euthanasia. Euthanasia, also known as assisted dying, is legal in Switzerland under certain circumstances. The country has a unique law that allows individuals to seek assistance in ending their lives if they suffer from an incurable illness or unbearable pain. To access this service, a person must be a Swiss citizen or a legal resident, be mentally competent, and make a voluntary, well-considered decision.
People who choose cryonics as a life extension plan do so despite the slim to none chances of being revived. However, with huge advances being made in the medical field, there is a high chance that people will be cryopreserved and reanimated successfully in the future.