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KrioRus where you can be FROZEN to come back from the DEAD
By Courtney Weaver For Daily Mail Published: 21:02 EST, 4 January 2016 | Updated: 04:43 EST, 5 January 2016
Travel to the 15th-century town of Sergiyev Posad on the outskirts of Moscow, drive down two dirt roads and take a sharp left after the pink house with a giant hammer-and-sickle flag outside, and you'll see a green gate with signs warning of a guard dog and 24-hour video surveillance.
Through that unassuming gate, you enter a different world.
Inside a large white hangar are two giant vats filled with the frozen brains and bodies of dozens of people from nine countries and a menagerie of pets (cats, dogs and birds).
Watching over them is Danila Medvedev, a 35-year-old who believes Russia will soon outpace the U.S. in the world of anti-ageing, biomedicine and the science of living for ever. He is a founder of KrioRus, Russia's first company to specialise in cryonics - freezing bodies in the hope of one day reviving them.
Deep freeze: Over the past decade, KrioRus (pictured) has morphed into one of the biggest cryonics companies in the world, rivalling its American counterparts
Preservation: KrioRus, based in Sergiyev Posad on the outskirts of Moscow, is the only cryonics operation with frozen patients outside the U.S. Staff are pictured working at the facility
The premises consists of a modest two-storey house and the white hangar (pictured) in the back yard, where the company keeps its 45 cryopreserved clients
He is the son of a scientist and grew up reading the science fiction of Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein. He has worked at an investment bank and helps run an anti-human-trafficking organisation. But his day-job is freezing people.
Medvedev became fascinated by the belief that humans, if cooled to minus 196c at the time of clinical death, could be resuscitated when science had advanced sufficiently to cure them of old age or illness. As a student, he began translating cryonics literature from English into Russian and giving lectures. By 2005, he and eight others had formed KrioRus.
Over the past decade, it has morphed into one of the biggest cryonics companies in the world, rivalling its American counterparts. But you wouldn't know that from its headquarters.
Tucked away amid other dachas (most of the neighbours don't even know what lies beyond the green gate), it consists of a modest two-storey house and the white hangar in the back yard, where the company keeps its 45 cryopreserved clients.
Normally, the facilities are looked after by a man called Sergei, who was a forced labourer before he was freed by Medvedev's anti-trafficking group. But every month or so Medvedev visits to check on the two cylinders of liquid nitrogen that contain KrioRus's frozen humans.
The company's 24 full-body clients hang on individual pulleys by their ankles. This means their heads are closer to the bottom of the container, where it's colder. Meanwhile, the heads and brains of those who have chosen so-called neuropreservation — bodies not included — are stored on the cylinders' floors.
Danila Medvedev, a 35-year-old, believes Russia will soon outpace the U.S. in the world of anti-ageing, biomedicine and the science of living for ever. He is a founder of KrioRus, Russia's first company to specialise in cryonics - freezing bodies in the hope of one day reviving them
As well as people, KrioRus stores more than a dozen pets in the same vats, although, Medvedev told me: 'We try not to emphasise the fact that we're storing people together with animals.'
The idea of cryonics first took off in the U.S. in the Sixties after the publication of a book called The Prospect Of Immortality, by Robert Ettinger, a Michigan college professor, which argued that a person frozen at the exact moment of death could later be brought back to life.
Cryonics societies sprang up in California and Michigan. The first cryopatient, a University of California psychology professor, was cryopreserved in 1967, and by 1972 a further six people had followed.
But the Cryonics Society of California soon ran into trouble.
Led by Robert Nelson, a former TV repairman with no scientific background, it didn't have enough money to maintain the cryopreservation of its patients and began stuffing multiple bodies into capsules intended for single occupants.
Two capsules failed, causing the nine bodies inside to decompose. Nelson was sued by some family members and, in 1981, ordered to pay them $800,000 (£544,000).
Since then, the reputation of cryonics in the U.S. has fluctuated, though it has some famous acolytes.
The head of baseball star Ted Williams is stored at minus 196c in a steel container in Arizona. PayPal founder Peter Thiel is booked in to be cryonically preserved; TV presenter Larry King is said to be ready to sign the papers.
In our health-obsessed age, the hunt for a long, possibly eternal, life has gone global.
In Italy, former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has said he plans to fund a research institute that will allow people to live to the age of 120, while Kazakhstan's president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, has founded his own academy devoted to concocting the elixir of life.
Most companies use stand-by services whose main purpose is to get the body out of the hospital or mortuary as soon as possible
Once a patient is pronounced legally dead, the body must be cooled within a few hours to start bringing down the body temperature
But when it comes to cryonics there is a new, and very cold, war as rival countries vie for patients and scientific breakthroughs.
Fittingly, the two opponents are the U.S. and Russia.
KrioRus is the only cryonics operation with frozen patients outside the U.S. There, the industry leader is Alcor, based in Arizona, which has more than 140 frozen clients — a number that is increasing slowly.
KrioRus has the edge on pricing. While Alcor stores bodies in individual containers, it takes a socialist-inspired approach and stores them in giant communal vacuum flasks. As a result, at KrioRus the procedure costs £24,000 for a full body or £8,000 for just a head. At Alcor it costs £133,000 for a full body and £53,000 for a head. (Alcor advocates that clients pay through life insurance.)
Russia also has the advantage of a scandal-free clean slate. Medvedev says: 'We didn't have the crisis they had in the 1970s. People in Russia have no negative impression of cryonics.'
In the U.S., meanwhile, members of the leading cryonics companies remain sceptical that the Russians will ever beat the quality of their service. When I told the head of one how Russia was trying to set up a hospice centre-cum-freezing lab — where patients will die and be frozen in the same facility — he brushed off the prospect, noting that Alcor already has a contract with a local hospice group.
In both countries, the cryopreservation process is largely the same.
Once a patient is pronounced legally dead, the body must be cooled within a few hours to start bringing down the body temperature. Most companies use stand-by services whose main purpose is to get the body out of the hospital or mortuary as soon as possible.
Over several hours, the patient's blood is replaced with a cryoprotectant - essentially a chemical antifreeze that shields tissue from freezing damage
KrioRus has the edge on pricing. taking a socialist-inspired approach and stores bodies in giant communal vacuum flasks
Over several hours, the patient's blood is replaced with a cryoprotectant - essentially a chemical antifreeze that shields tissue from freezing damage. Then the patient is cooled to minus 196c over the course of several days using nitrogen gas.
Many patients elect to freeze just their heads. Some do so for financial reasons; others believe all human identity and memory is stored in the brain and so a whole body will not be necessary.
Alcor says it has come close to perfecting the cryopreservation procedure and can freeze human brains and bodies with little damage to the cell structure from the formation of ice crystals.
Yet there is little scientific proof that supports the theory of re-animation. Most mainstream scientists and doctors express great scepticism, saying any suggestion that cryonics could bring a person back to life is 'simply snake oil'.
Nonetheless, clients trickle in.
In Russia, KrioRus falls outside both the medical industry and the funeral services industry and has few of the regulatory difficulties faced by a U.S. company as regards getting hospitals and mortuaries to release clients.
When it got its first client in 2005 — an elderly St Petersburg mathematician whose grandson wanted to see her cryopreserved — KrioRus had no specialist premises. Her head was simply stored in dry ice in her bedroom for the first few months (her family kept the windows open).
But today, thanks to its relatively cheap pricing, it has attracted a diverse group of cryopatients. Valeria Udalova, one of its co-founders, has her mother's head frozen inside the facility; the brain of her colleague Medvedev's grandmother is stored there as well.
KrioRus is currently moving to a new 35,500 sq ft facility that will double as an oncology and hospice centre
Technical: The patient is cooled to minus 196c over the course of several days using nitrogen gas
'I wouldn't put an exact percentage on the probability [of cryonics working]. But the main thing is, it's better than zero,' Alexei Samykin, a Moscow teacher, told me.
He signed himself up, and then his mother a few months later after she had breast cancer diagnosed. His mother was too sick to sign the papers herself, but Samykin insists she gave her oral consent.
KrioRus is currently moving to a new 35,500 sq ft facility that will double as an oncology and hospice centre — the first time a cryonics facility has been allowed to share a site with a working medical centre.
Internationally, it is hoping to launch a joint venture in China. There are also plans for an outpost in Switzerland, a destination the founders like because of its neutrality — perfect for the potentially unstable world in which patients would be revived — and its light-touch regulation, including a law permitting euthanasia.
That Russia is home to one of the world's largest cryonics companies is strange for several reasons, most notably Russians' generally pessimistic attitude towards the future.
Russia was officially an atheist country for decades during communism and, after the USSR's fall, many people scrambled for new beliefs. Some returned to their traditional religions but others searched for new spiritual avenues, with a rise in popularity of psychics and mysticism.
Danila Medvedev predicts that the first head transplant will be performed in the near future, resulting in an ailing rich person's head being transplanted on to a healthy poor person's body.
Inside a large white hangar are two giant vats filled with the frozen brains and bodies of dozens of people from nine countries and a menagerie of pets (file picture)
'They can have a nice life with lots of money, sex, drugs and gambling in Monte Carlo,' he says of the resulting two-person hybrid. He has already come up with a plan to boost his own chances of revival, storing half his brain in Russia and half elsewhere to hedge against a natural disaster.
KrioRus's dream, he says, is to bring back dead members of Captain Scott's expedition to the Antarctic — frozen there in 1912 — to their laboratory. 'Most likely the temperature was low enough that we could preserve the brains and revive them in the future.'
If KrioRus is the Lada of the cryonics world, Arizona's Alcor is the Mercedes-Benz.
The world's largest cryonics company, it conducts tours of its site twice a week, showing off its operating room, where freezing takes place, and the so-called long-term patient care bay.
Here, frozen clients are kept in sleek steel capsules that look a bit like giant Thermos flasks.
Max More, Alcor's chief executive, is a muscular Briton from Bristol who sports a wardrobe of matching black T-shirts and blazers. He joined as a member at the age of 22. After graduating from Oxford with a degree in philosophy, politics and economics, he came to the U.S. in 1988 and went on to become chief executive in 2010 after several scandals at the company.
These included claims of embezzlement by an employee and allegations, which Alcor denies, that it had mistreated the frozen head of baseball star Ted Williams.
Like Danila Medvedev, Max More is less a scientist than a salesman for the future.
'It's pretty controversial to say this but things get better over time,' he said, when I asked why he would want to come back in the future. 'I feel like we have this myth of the Garden of Eden and the past as Paradise. But it wasn't.'
Alcor patients, he says, would come back to a world that was just as good — if not better — than the one they left.
The language at Alcor is unfailingly cheerful. Clients are not called corpses, they are patients. They don't get frozen, they are suspended. The frozen state is known as stasis and the revival process is referred to as reanimation.
Once a patient is pronounced legally dead, the body must be cooled within a few hours to start bringing down the body temperature
The company brochures feature a smiling, happy couple on the cover (Alcor's chief financial officer and her partner). It currently has 1,053 live members who plan to freeze themselves, of whom about three quarters are men.
At the moment, Alcor has 141 people cryopreserved inside its facility. One family has signed up their five daughters.
During an Alcor conference last October at a four-star Arizona resort, 200 would-be clients mingled with golfers and poolside sunbathers. It was a predominantly white, male, older crowd — a demographic that wasn't accidental, Max More told me. It's called cryocrastination,' he said. 'The younger you are, the less likely you are to need [cryonics].'
Over the course of the weekend, I met David Pizer, an Arizona resort operator who hopes cryopreservation will allow him to come back and live out his dream of becoming an astronaut.
David Wallace Croft, a computer programmer from Texas, said two of his six children — aged 15 and 18 — had signed up for Alcor, although it had created some family tensions. 'My wife isn't on board at all. She finds the whole thing silly and embarrassing,' he said.
Another Alcor member, computer programmer Tripper McCarthy, already has cat Pip suspended at Alcor (at a cost of £6,700).
Those who sign up seem to fall into two categories. The first consists of people who consider themselves pioneers and are genuinely excited by the prospect of coming back in the future. The second consists of people scared both by the prospect of death and by the finality that comes with saying goodbye to a loved one for ever — a feeling most sceptics would find it hard not to empathise with.
Gary Abramson and Maria Entraigues-Abramson probably fall into the former category. They met at a conference devoted to life extension and married not long afterwards.
'I had this curiosity since I was a little girl about ageing. I always felt it was something that was not right,' Maria told me.
KrioRus's dream, he says, is to bring back dead members (pictured) of Captain Scott's expedition to the Antarctic — frozen there in 1912 — to their laboratory
'If you're frozen, you're locked in time,' Gary chimed in. 'If you wait 100 years or 1,000 years or however much time it takes for the technology to develop, it doesn't matter. The alternative is a 100 per cent guaranteed annihilation of your existence.'
Entraigues-Abramson added: 'People think cryonics is freaky but lying in the ground and decomposing isn't? What's the difference?'
Back in Moscow, I took one last trip to KrioRus.
Danila Medvedev was just back from the Russian funeral directors' association annual conference. He seemed ecstatic.
Representatives from all Russia's funeral homes had been there. Among those advertising their services had been cremators who can turn a deceased loved one's ashes into a pencil or an artificial diamond, and a company that will scatter ashes in Space.
Medvedev said: 'People in the funeral industry are very forward-looking in Russia and looking to change something.'
What about the time-frame for bringing cryopreserved people back to life?
Medvedev forecasts that scientists will be able to revive the brain in the next 40 years.
'It's very likely we will have the technology to reanimate a human brain by 2050 and, if not, sometime in the 21st century almost certainly — if we don't destroy ourselves,' he added quickly.
This is an abridged version of an article first published in the FT Weekend Magazine