A group of UK researchers have recently banded together to coordinate research into cryonics and cryobiology, the low-temperature preservation of tissues. Only small collections of cells can presently be reversibly cryopreserved, but there is a strong incentive to build the means to reversibly preserve whole organs and other large tissue structures. This is probably a matter of firstly developing a better form of cryoprotectant, one that is minimally toxic and easily cleared, and secondly putting more effort into producing robust, minimally damaging cooling and warming protocols. When developed, the ability to store whole organs indefinitely will prove useful in the very near future to expand the pool of donor organs, and remain useful in the decades ahead to reduce the cost of producing and delivering organs as needed. Never underestimate how much money can be saved by the ability to warehouse products as needed.
The lack of any present ability to reverse the state of cryopreservation in complex tissues is not an impediment to the use of indefinite low-temperature storage as a form of emergency medical care, as has been the case in the cryonics industry for decades now. A good cryopreservation as rapidly as possible after clinical death means that the fine structure of the brain is likely preserved, based on present evidence, the data of the mind is thus retained, and the patient can wait for as long as it takes for medical technology to advance to the point at which restoration and repair is feasible. A future in which a cryopreserved brain can be restored to life is also a future in which the cell and tissue damage that causes aging can be repaired, or indeed a new body built to order. Both of those goals in advanced medicine are well understood and near term in comparison to the sort of molecular nanotechnology industry needed to clear out toxic cryoprotectant and go cell by cell to repair the other harms caused by present means of preservation.
In any case, this new research effort is coordinated by João de Magalhães, whom regular readers will recognize as one of the members of the transhumanist community of past decades who followed his inclinations into aging research, and now leads a laboratory in that field, doing his part to push forward the state of the art. A whole range of figures and initiatives relating to human longevity, including the Aubrey de Grey and the SENS Research Foundation, can be traced back to that small community of futurists with a strong interest in radical life extension. If you can clearly see the future you want, you should reach for it, help to make it real.
It is interesting that de Magalhães chooses to now make some inroads into supporting progress in cryonics alongside his work on aging. It is perhaps in the nature of a calculation that everyone should make: at what point do you think that the intersection of progress towards rejuvenation therapies and your own personal decline into old age makes it smart to put more effort towards advancing the state of the cryonics industry? Cryonics and cryopreservation is the only viable backup plan for those of us who will age to death before the advent of working rejuvenation treatments. If I were a decade older or SENS-style rejuvenation research was not making at least slow progress then I'd certainly be putting more of my efforts into supporting the cryonics industry. I should probably be doing more than I am on that front regardless. People in the middle of the present span of life shouldn't be complacent; research in the life sciences takes a long time, and the backup plan of cryonics is there for a reason. I encourage you to think over your own balance of choices.
In the meanwhile, congratulations are due de Magalhães for setting up this initiative and in doing so helping to improve the state of cryonics. One of the best things that can happen for the small cryonics industry is for organ cryopreservation to prosper and be adopted by the medical mainstream; it will mean more funding and legitimacy for lines of research and improvement in methodologies that can also be applied to cryonics, meaning cryopreservation as emergency medical care for people who cannot be saved in any other way.
A new network has been established by UK scientists to advance and promote research into cryobiology - the effects of extremely low temperature on living organisms and cells. The UK Cryonics and Cryopreservation Research Network is being coordinated by Dr Joao Pedro de Magalhaes, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Liverpool's Institute of Integrative Biology, who studies the molecular basis of ageing.
At present, cryopreservation technology is only successful for cell lines and very small tissues. More research is required before whole organs can successfully be cryopreserved while retaining their biological integrity. Dr de Magalhaes said: "Cryobiology is a crucial area of research for modern biotechnology due to the importance of biobanking; from developing reliable stem cell storage systems, organ banking for transplants as well as storage for engineered tissues."
Cryonics has been a topic of much debate over the years, with many scientists doubting whether current cryogenically frozen individuals can ever be brought to life. Dr de Magalhaes said: "Although cryonics is not feasible at present, technological breakthroughs in cryobiology may, in the future, decrease the amount of damage to levels that permit reversible cryopreservation. One of the goals of our research network is to discuss the ethical, medical, social and economic implications of these potential breakthroughs that would radically change our perceptions of life and death."
We are the UK Cryonics and Cryopreservation Research Network The UK Cryonics and Cryopreservation Research Network is a group of UK researchers who, together with international advisors, aim to advance research in cryopreservation and its applications.
Although we are a small group, we hope to promote academic and industrial activity on cryopreservation, and discuss its potential applications, including the idea of cryopreserving whole humans, commonly known as cryonics. We acknowledge that cryonics is a controversial topic, but like any unprovable approach we think its scientific discussion is necessary to permit its understanding by the public and by the wider scientific community, and it allows us to address many of the misunderstandings surrounding cryonics. We also think that cryopreservation, cryogenics and cryonics are fields with a huge potential impact on human medicine whose societal implications should be considered and debated.
We hope to attract and excite students and other researchers about cryobiology, contribute to knowledge exchange and help attract interest and funding to the field.