An Update from Competitors for the Brain Preservation Foundation's Technology Prize

The Brain Preservation Foundation, a group with very sensible goals, runs a technology prize:

The nonprofit Brain Preservation Foundation (BPF) hereby officially announces a cash prize for the first individual or team to rigorously demonstrate a surgical technique capable of inexpensively and completely preserving an entire human brain for long-term (>100 years) storage with such fidelity that the structure of every neuronal process and every synaptic connection remains intact and traceable using today's electron microscopic (EM) imaging techniques.

As regular readers will know, the data of the mind is encoded in the fine structure of the brain. If we could find a low cost way of preserving the brain - and the mind it contains - then people could opt for preservation with the hope of later restoration to life through the far more advanced technology that will emerge in the decades ahead. As a vision it beats the grave, rot, and certain oblivion, and I've argued that we are barbarians for not putting far more effort into preventing the tens of millions of permanent deaths each and every year.

The two current competitors for the BPF technology prize, cryonics spin-off technology company 21st Century Medicine and collaborating scientists in the Max Planck Institute and other research centers, recently put out updates on their progress. You can see images of preserved brain tissue at the BPF website, created with the quite different technologies used by the two teams:

Our first team, led by Shawn Mikula (working in the laboratory of Winfried Denk at the Max Planck Institute in Heidelberg), has developed a whole mouse brain chemical preservation and plastic embedding technique. ... As part of the Brain Preservation Technology Prize competition, Dr. Mikula has agreed to demonstrate the quality of ultrastructure preservation which his protocol can achieve.


21st Century Medicine's main research has been focused on the cryopreservation of transplantable organs (kidney, heart) and toward decreasing the toxicity of the process to such organs. However, as part of the Brain Preservation Technology Prize competition, they have agreed to demonstrate the quality of ultrastructure preservation that their low temperature vitrification technique can achieve when applied to whole rabbit brains.

Here then are examples of the two most plausible avenues to long-term preservation of the mind's structure: plastination on the one hand and vitrification at low temperatures on the other. The latter is practiced by present day cryonics providers, as the cryonics community has always focused on low temperature storage, but this is something of a historical accident, I think. Future competitors to the present day cryonics industry may well employ plastination techniques - and competition is always good, as it generates progress and better service.

A lot of people are going to run out of time even under the best case scenarios for the development of rejuvenation biotechnologies capable of reversing aging. A billion lives every twenty years, give or take, a staggering number. But they don't have to die, permanently and irrevocably - suffering what is known as information theoretic death. For so long as the mind is successfully preserved, a person can wait for the molecular nanotechnologies and other advanced medical technologies of the future to be developed and used: that person has a chance at a life in the future, and that is far more than can be said for those who have gone to the grave.

We lose the dead forever today because too few people care enough to do something about it, to build an industry capable of offering preservations at a cost comparable to funerary services. A great deal of growth lies between today's cryonics community and a world-spanning competitive industry that can place tens of millions of people into storage every year, however, and it is to our collective shame that such a thing seems very implausible at this time.


Yes it is very strange.

Posted by: Fredrik Thelin at April 9th, 2012 3:08 PM

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