The small industry of cryonics is the destination for the few visionary survivors who can see the golden future ahead, but who will die before the advent of working rejuvenation biotechnology, ways to repair the old, turn back age-related disease, and restore their health. The therapies necessary to attain this goal can be envisaged today in great detail: removing metabolic waste; repairing mitochondrial DNA damage; restoring declining stem cell activity to youthful function; and so forth. But tens of millions of lives are lost to aging with each passing year, and widespread, reliable, cost-effective rejuvenation treatments are as yet decades ahead of us even in the best of plausible futures.
There is only only one fallback plan at the moment, and that is cryonics: to be vitrified and put into low-temperature storage, knowing that if you can wait, the pattern of your mind preserved indefinitely in the fine structure of your brain, then the upward curve of science and technology will lead to future restoration. The molecular nanotechnologies needed to restore a vitrified brain to active life can also be envisaged in some detail, for all that they are much more complex and distant than mere near-perfect control over disease, cells, and all other aspects of our biology. If a future society can restore a cryopreserved person to life, then repairing the damage of age and crafting a new body to order should be a simple task in comparison.
Throughout the past two decades of growth in the modern community of longevity advocates and researchers there has been an overlap between interest in cryonics and interest in treating aging. In the matter of goals, they are both approaches to reduce the odds of dying, an admirable target and something the rest of society should give more than the lip service it does. On the side of science there is an overlap between cryonics and the tissue engineering infrastructure that will be needed in the decades ahead: when building tissues to order is a routine undertaking, it also becomes necessary to efficiently and effectively store tissues. The ability to indefinitely warehouse tissue products will make all the difference to prices at the clinic, and the only candidate approach is vitrification and low-temperature storage, exactly the same technologies used in cryopreservation.
The folk at 21st Century Medicine have been working to bridge that gap for years, but it isn't the only such venture. A few years back some of the people also involved in the rejuvenation research side of the industry founded Arigos Biomedical to work on a better method of vitrification for organ preservation. The company was one of the first recipients of venture funding from Breakout Labs, presented some of their work at the SENS6 conference, and quite recently the SENS Research Foundation extended a bridge loan on the occasion of Tanya Jones transitioning from the SRF to full time work at Arigos:
SENS Research Foundation is pleased to announce that its Board has authorized a bridge loan to Arigos Biomedical, Inc. Arigos's work in the long-term preservation of organs for the transplant industry - an intrinsic, necessary infrastructure component for the development of a tissue engineering industry - is supportive of SRF's overall mission to advance rejuvenation biotechnology. Our Chief Operating Officer, Tanya Jones, began this company with another co-founder three years ago, and she will be leaving SRF to be Arigos's full-time CEO. Tanya's work has had an indelible impact on SRF, where her efforts included establishing our first Bay area research facility, and our expansion into our current research center. SRF is proud to have this opportunity to support the work that Arigos is doing, and the great progress that it promises.
The SENS Research Foundation has a fine tradition of graduating researchers and employees out to other cutting edge ventures in the Bay Area, and Jones is far from the first to go on to other interesting work in a related field. Networking is everything in this world, and this is an example of how that works. Both Breakout Labs and the SENS Research Foundation are within Peter Thiel's network, which in turn is an active part of the Bay Area venture community, where everyone of note is at most two steps removed from everyone else of note. A bridge loan is a fairly common practice when raising funds for a young company, given that (a) the process always takes more time and effort than you think it is going to, and (b) funding sources are often quite happy to draw things out in order to gain more favorable terms from an operating business with ongoing expenses. Demonstrating the ability to produce bridge loans from thin air is an effective counter to that ploy.
Thus one can assume that Arigos Biomedical is doing well enough to be raising funds in this up market and pulling in more time and effort from those involved. We shall see how that all goes, but the signs in recent years have all been pointing to the start of meaningful progress in organ preservation. The company follows the long-standing tradition in early stage medical and biotech startups of having no web presence at all - it isn't unusual, for all that it makes life just a little more challenging for those of us who do use the internet for everything. To find out more about what the company is doing requires some digging, such as turning up this article from last year:
When a person dies, doctors often have mere hours - or in the case of kidneys, just over a day - to find a recipient before the organ degrades. "This precludes any chance of banking organs and makes every transplant an emergency procedure, often in the dead of night... when patients aren't ready," says Stephen van Sickle of Arigos Biomedical in Mountain View, California.
Nearly 1 in 5 donor kidneys is discarded in the US each year, because a suitable recipient or clinic cannot be found in time. But what if these organs could be frozen? Standard freezing creates damaging ice crystals. An alternative is vitrification. This process is often used to store human eggs or embryos for years and involves infusing the tissue with an antifreeze-like liquid and rapidly cooling it to create a glassy state. Doing this with large organs such as hearts and kidneys is harder, as more antifreeze can be toxic and the glassy organ can crack.
To tackle this problem, van Sickle combined vitrification with persufflation, in which blood is replaced with a gas - helium in this case. The organ cools more quickly, less antifreeze is needed and pockets of tissue are separated by gas, protecting against shattering. So far, van Sickle, who outlined his work at the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence meeting in Cambridge, UK, has frozen pig kidneys. CT scans revealed a lot less fracturing than with vitrification alone. The next stage is to rewarm the organs to see if they remain viable.