Working in the Cryonics Industry

The small cryonics industry provides a vital service that all too few people avail themselves of. Low temperature preservation after death via vitrification ensures a chance at life again in the future. Provided that the fine structure of the brain is maintained, a preserved individual can wait indefinitely for the arrival of biotechnologies and nanotechnologies needed for restoration to life: a new body, cellular and structural repair of the brain, undoing all of the chemistry introduced in the preservation process, and so forth. It is an unknown chance, but nonetheless the only option going for those who will not live long enough to benefit from the rejuvenation and radical life extension that lies ahead as a result of progress in the science of aging. Here is a lengthy medical insider's view of the industry and its procedures, and the challenges inherent in public attitudes towards cryonics:

For me, cryopreservation was an obvious mechanical problem. You've got molecules; why not lock them in place so that somebody can fix them later? All these things happening in our cells are just mechanical processes - they are just little machines, basically - and if you can stop them before they start to disintegrate, that seems like a good thing. Before that I was a physician, but I haven't practiced for about five years now. I still have my license. My participation in the cryonics field happened very gradually. There's a lot of different things that need to be done. It takes a lot of people. I am the leader and do the surgical procedures as well. I keep the instruments organized and I write out the procedures.

Each case can be very different. I'll pick a generic case. We might get notified that a member of ours is sick, maybe a few weeks from dying, and maybe they're located in a nearby state so we have to mobilize and get our equipment nearby to be ready for when they are pronounced legally dead. Let's say they're in a hospice situation in some sort of a care facility - that would be better than a hospital because in a hospital they don't like other people coming in with their own equipment. If we see that they're getting closer to death, like a day or two out, we might try to get the equipment even closer to their bed. When they finally stop breathing, the heart stops, and the doctor pronounces them dead, then we take over.

We are trying to preserve all the intricate branches, about 2000, on each neuron, as well as the specific shapes of each synapse. If we cool them, it lengthens the amount of time before the neurons actually die. So we try to keep these cells alive as long as we possibly can. We put the person in an ice-bath - it's kind of like a stretcher with walls on it that contains ice water. That's the fastest we can cool externally. We start cooling, we start moving them out of the facility, we try to give medications that will stop the blood from clotting and will help slow down the metabolism further. An important one would be an antibiotic: we don't want bacteria to grow while we're doing this. Another important one would be to prevent blood clotting, and we want to constrict the blood vessels on the extremities to concentrate the blood flow to the core.

We move them out of there to a different facility where we can perform surgical procedures.We would prefer to start surgical procedures immediately. If the setting allows it, that's actually our standard protocol. We drain the blood out and replace it gradually with a cryoprotectant, like an antifreeze. That takes hours: to do the cooling and to pump those other chemicals in. Then we start cooling sub-zero, taking them down below the freezing point of water. If we do it right, we won't get ice crystals in the brain. That's called vitrification. It's never 100% perfect. There's always going to be ice crystals somewhere so its a matter of degrees; it's a matter of how much we can prevent that. There are different ways of sub-zero cooling: we can use dry ice, we can use nitrogen gas, circulate cold air over them. At some point, we remove the head usually because we don't need the rest of the body. That's not where the brain is. Sometimes we remove the brain also before we start the sub-zero cooling so it kind of depends on the patient. Then we take them down to -196 Celsius and immerse them in liquid nitrogen, and there they'll sit.


Comment Submission

Post a comment; thoughtful, considered opinions are valued. New comments can be edited for a few minutes following submission. Comments incorporating ad hominem attacks, advertising, and other forms of inappropriate behavior are likely to be deleted.

Note that there is a comment feed for those who like to keep up with conversations.