In cryopreservation of tissues, ice is the primary enemy. Ice crystals destroy cell structures, both during freezing, and again during thawing. Ice is the reason why a great deal of effort has gone into the development of cryoprotectant chemicals that enable vitrification, a low-temperature state with minimal ice formation. Vitrification is what makes it possible for the cryonics industry to store patients while doing their best to preserve the fine structure of the brain in which the data of the mind is encoded. There is an enormous difference in damage between a frozen brain and a vitrified brain.
There is still much that can be done to improve cryoprotectants and vitrification of tissues. For example, thawing remains a challenge - reversible vitrification is a near term goal for organ storage, a capability that will revolutionize the logistics of organ transplantation, but has yet to be achieved in more than proof of principle demonstrations. Researchers have made some inroads in the past few years towards the production of better methods of thawing that can minimize ice crystal formation, such as through the use of nanoparticles. The researchers noted here have a different, small molecule approach to the problem, and are claiming to be able to effectively disrupt ice crystal formation. If validated, this may be a big deal for reversible vitrification, for the transplant industry, and ultimately for the cryonics industry and their efforts to save lives.
Everyone knows that freezing things is an imperfect process. Take frozen food, for example - most have experienced those frozen ice crystals that change the texture and taste of their favourite meal. The medical field experiences a similar problem when freezing cells (stem cells) and tissues, except the result is cellular death or lower quality. Two investigators founded a startup company, PanTHERA CryoSolutions, to commercialize a revolutionary product for the cryopreservation, or freezing, of cells and tissues, resulting in better quality cells for cellular therapies and superior products.
"Cryopreservation is a common strategy, but the technology that was developed to do it is 70 to 80 years old. With current technology, when you freeze something, you get a large amount of cell death that occurs, so you don't recover all those cells. In addition, we're actually adversely affecting the functional capacity of those cells." The process that causes the majority of this cellular damage and death is called ice recrystallization. PanTHERA CryoSolutions has discovered a small molecule inhibitor that prevents ice recrystallization - something that none of the current cryoprotectants available on the market can do - making it a unique technology. "Our technology uses small molecular structures that have the ability to inhibit the ice recrystallization process. They actually prevent that damage from occurring, so when we thaw that product, it's a superior product and it's also functional."
The proof of concept for this technology was established with a project that looked at hematopoietic stem cells. "The results have clearly indicated that this ice recrystallization inhibitor technology really works and makes a superior product where we get faster engraftment and increased incidence of engraftment, which is exactly what you want in a clinical setting." PanTHERA CryoSolutions aims to have a product commercially available in 2018 for a specific therapy, but the founders see the potential to apply this technology to many areas, including cellular therapies, regenerative medicine, reproductive biology, and 3-D bioprinting applications.