Interest in developing means of reversible vitrification for tissue preservation has been growing outside the cryonics community in recent years. This is a good thing for cryonics as an industry, as a greater interest in reversible tissue preservation in the broader research community will lead to both technological improvements that can be used by cryonics providers and a greater acceptance of cryonics. Cryonics is a legitimate approach to medical intervention where there is no other option for the patient, but despite greater public support for cryonics from scientists, there remains considerable and unfounded hostility within some portions of the research community. Hopefully this will change in the years ahead with meaningful progress towards the broader use of vitrification:
Researchers have discovered a new approach to "vitrification," or ice-free cryopreservation, that could ultimately allow a much wider use of extreme cold to preserve tissues and even organs for later use. Cryopreservation has already found widespread use in simpler applications such as preserving semen, blood, embryos, plant seeds and some other biological applications. But it is often constrained by the crystallization that occurs when water freezes, which can damage or destroy tissues and cells. To address this, researchers have used various types of cryoprotectants that help reduce cell damage during the freezing process - among them is ethylene glycol, literally the same compound often used in automobile radiators to prevent freezing. A problem is that many of these cryoprotectants are toxic, and can damage or kill the very cells they are trying to protect from the forces of extreme cold.
In the new research, the engineers developed a mathematical model to simulate the freezing process in the presence of cryoprotectants, and identified a way to minimize damage. They found that if cells are initially exposed to a low concentration of cryoprotectant and time is allowed for the cells to swell, then the sample can be vitrified after rapidly adding a high concentration of cryoprotectants. The end result is much less overall toxicity. The research showed that healthy cell survival following vitrification rose from about 10 percent with a conventional approach to more than 80 percent with the new optimized procedure. "The biggest single problem and limiting factor in vitrification is cryoprotectant toxicity, and this helps to address that. The model should also help us identify less toxic cryoprotectants, and ultimately open the door to vitrification of more complex tissues and perhaps complete organs."
If that were possible, many more applications of vitrification could be feasible, especially as future progress is made in the rapidly advancing field of tissue regeneration, in which stem cells can be used to grow new tissues or even organs. Tissues could be made in small amounts and then stored until needed for transplantation. Organs being used for transplants could be routinely preserved until a precise immunological match was found for their use. Conceptually, a person could even grow a spare heart or liver from their own stem cells and preserve it through vitrification in case it was ever needed.