Cryonics is the practice of cooling terminal patients down to ultralow cryogenic temperatures for preservation in liquid nitrogen. By means of cryonics, patients can be preserved till some time in future when advanced technologies, in particular, nanotechnology, will be able to repair cells, tissues and all functions of the human organism in the whole. In the US cryonics services have been offered since the late 1960’s. In Russia, interest in cryionics is constantly growing. Our company, the first and as yet only Russian cryonics company, offers cryonics services since autumn of 2005.
Cryonics as a field of academic research includes cryobiology, cryogenic engineering and clinical medical practice in an effort to develop and apply cryostasis. Cryostasis is preservation of biological objects in an unchanged state by means of freezing down to ultralow cryogenic temperatures.
Cryonics as a practice, is designed to maintain patients who have just died by current medical standards, or terminal and doomed to death, until some day in the future when technologies of reparation (repair) of cells and tissues are available so that it will become possible to restore all the functions of human organism and recover the personality of the patient. It seems that nanotechnology will be key, in particular, molecular nanorobotics. Along with the reanimation of cryonized patients, nanomedicine will make it possible to cure all diseases including complications of aging. Cryonics is the only opportunity for the eventual reversibility of death and a new lease on life. Obnviously, death cannot yet be reversed. But by such intervention in mesasures of prervation as cryonics, it may be attempted to stabalize the condition in the interum, and stave off complete dissolution.
For better understanding of the meaning and possibilities of cryonics we shall consider some issues that may at first blush seem rather simple. But as shall be sees, answers are far from unambiguous. First and foremost, we must review current definition of life in modern biology. So, what is life? What is Death? What is Cryostasis? How can revival be realized?
1. What is Life?
1.1 Human Life, Organism and Cells
Human life is sustained by organs functioning: brain, heart, lungs, liver, etc. Organs are composed of tissues (nervous, muscle, connective), and tissues, in turn, consist of cells (neurons, muscle cells, blood cells, etc.).
Hence, human life is primarily the life of the organism and cells.
Moreover, in accordance with modern biological concepts, life exists primarily in the form of cells: organisms are composed of cells and their activity depends on the activity of their constituent cells. A cell is the basic unit providing for absorption, transition, storage and use of substance and energy, storing, processing and realizing biological information. All the biochemical functions of cells are carried out in organized structures and are actually determined by these structures.
1.2. Cell Structure and Function
A cell can be represented as consisting of cell membrane separating the cell from it’s environment, and of intracellular elements (organelles): nuclei, mitochondria, etc. Membranes consists of a double layer of lipides (fats) with embedded protein molecules. Organelles are composed of protein molecules, nucleic acids, lipids, etc.
Nutrients, constructive materials and oxygen are supplied into the cell through its membrane, through pores which are protein molecules. Protein molecules inside the cell catalyze oxidation reactions producing energy accumulated in special molecules. This energy is used by other proteins for the realization of synthesis and decomposition reactions of proteins and other molecules including proteins maintaining cells structure, nucleic acids, etc.. Thus, the life of the cell life is principally provided by protein molecules functioning with the use of extraneous nutrients and oxygen.
1.3. Brain and Personality
In accordance with research data, the ongoing phenomena of human personality is provided by the neural activity of cerebration. Cerebration involves many brain structures but it is the cerebral cortex that has a dominant role in human consciousness and behaviour. At the cellular level the human brain can be desribed as a complex of interrelated neurons and other brain cells.
The processes of human learning and development and personality changes are finally manifest in his long-term memory changes. In general, all cerebration can be described as a process of entering and revising information into memory.
Thus, the sustained human personality is primarily consistant of one’s long-term memory. This implies that in principle it is sufficient to preserve those cerebral structures that provide long-term memory in order to preserve information that constitutes personality.
1.4. Cellular Basis of Memory
The structure of a neuron, the basic brain element, the very substrate for long-term memory, can be represented in the following manner: soma (the cell body), dendrites (cellular extension accepting incoming electric pulses) and axon (branched cellular extension through which a neuron transmits electric pulses). Neurons connect to one another and communicate through synapses, which are special growths at dendrites and axons.
At a first approximation, neuron function can be described in the following manner: electric excitation passing through dendrites, is accumulated at soma until exceeding some threshhold, and then an output pulse is generated that propagates through the adjacent axons. When this pulse reaches axon terminals (synapses), they produce mediator (chemical substance specific for a given type of neurons). Mediator is diffused to synaptic terminals of other neurons dendrites, and when mediator reaches them, electric excitation is generated which is transmitted to soma. The neurons aggregate activity induces gradual changes in the structure of neurons and transneural connections. In general, the synapses number and location are changed. These changes are the basis of the learning process and long-term memory.
Thus, long-term memory is encoded by the distribution of synaptic connections among neurons. In other words, to preserve information of human personality, it may be enough just to preserve information upon spacial distribution of connections among neurons in any individual human brain.
2. What Is Death?
2.1. The Death of an Organism
As a rule, the death of an organism occurs when some vital organ or system (for example, the liver or immune system) ceases to function properly due to illness or injury. It is usually followed by heart failure and, consequently, oxygen supply to brain is terminated. Heart and respiratory failures are classified as clinical death. After oxygen supply to brain is terminated, its cells stop functioning and gradually begin dying. This process lasts for from several minutes to one hour, and under lower body temperature (20-25°) for several hours – such cooling is applied in surgical operations when heart action must be terminated (for example, cardiac and brain surgery) without employing extracorporeal circulation and artificial lung ventilation. After this period, brain death occurs (characterized by areflexia and terminated bioelectrical activity), or biological death. Reanimation procedures between clinical and biological death can recover a patient to life.
2.2. The Death of a Cell
After the termination of oxygen supply to a cell, metabolic processes providing proper cell functioning, are disrupted, because oxidizing processes are interrupted and energy is no longer generated. Gradual cell degeneration begins because of warming and changes in ions concentration as proteins regulating their balance, stop functioning. Residual activity of enzymes decomposing proteins, triggers mechanisms of cellular self-destruction. However, this process is rather slow and after the termination of fuctioning of organism as a whole, a major part of its cells remain alive for quite some time. Therefore such cells can still be restored to proper function.
2.3. Information Theoretic Death
The death of the brain proceeds exactly as the death of any other organ. After the termination of oxygen supply, brain cells gradually stop functioning and begin degenerating. After the ternimation of brain function as a whole (brain death, biological death) many of its cells yet remain alive. Moreover, after a cell dies, that cell’s structure and many molecules and organelles are still preserved for a long time, up to several tens of hours, as well as the structure of cellular connections.
Thus, it may be safely suggested that information encoding individual human personality is preserved for a rather long time, at least, for several hours, even after his biological death. Loss of this information would imply final and even in principle irreversible and irretrievable information death. Modern science cannot define the exact moment of what is called: information theoretic death, as this depends not only on the current knowledge of the human brain mechanisms, but upon the ability of future medical technologies to recover and restore information encoded even in a damaged brain, toward patients revival and recovery of the personality at all intact.
Main conclusion: if the fine structure (spatial distribution of transneuronal connections) of the human brain is registered in several hours (or even tens of hours) after his biological death, there is a possibility that remaining information on his personality will be enough for his revival with the use of future medical technologies. This implies the preservation of his prior self and memory set.
The Relativity of the Very Term: “Death”
Frequently, the argument against cryonics is advanced that cryonized people are already quite dead and therefore all conceivable attempts to revive them are intrinsically absurd. But that old canard only amounts to no more than the logical falsity of appeal to definition. Long ago, the rejection of appeal to definition as consisting of circuitous reasoning and only actually ever as true as whatever definition to begin with, completed the refinement of fundamental principles of reasoning, thus concluding the history of logic. Such questions as before us, specifically as to the nature of death, therefore are not purely logical, much less tautological, but empirical and open to scientific inquiry and scrutiny. Because debating the meaning of a word, while all fine and good, is no substitute for observation and evidence of real phenomena as they actually occur. To the matter at hand, the particular appeal to definition in question herein, is premised upon long-outdated perceptions of death as an instantaneous event. Alas that such lamentable perception and error is so often characteristic not only of average lay people, but of all too many scientists, ill-informed of advanced current achievements in biology and medicine. Whereas in truth, death unfolds in a long and protracted process that may best be represented as consisting in the following stages:
1. The termination of the functioning of the organism as a whole (which is usually meant by the term “dead” – such perception is inherited from the medicine and practice of the past). But many cells and organs continue functioning at this stage and their structural destruction has not yet begun;
2. Partial destruction of the organic structure;
3. Total irreversible destruction of the organic structure. And this is exactly how the term “dead” will be understood by future medicine and as it is already perceived by Cryonics supporters. Upon availability of advanced technology of reanimation that does not yet exist, though entirely feasible in future, technology providing complete repair of the organism, it will be possible to totally recover the function of an organism at the second stage, and to bring it to life, that is, to resuscitate.
"Mostly dead is partly alive." Miracle Max in 'The Princess Bride'
3. What is Cryostasis?
Cryostasis is the fixation of the structures of human organism tissues by means of freezing down to cryogenic (ultralow) temperatures.
Cryostasis is achieved by the introduction of chemical agents (cryoprotectors) to body through blood-vascular system in order to reduce tissue damage by freezing. Then the body is gradually cooled down to the liquid nitrogen temperature (-196°) and placed into a cryostat (a dewar or a large thermos) containing liquid nitrogen. At such a temperature, the parient can be preserved practically without any changes even for hundreds of years. Nevertheless, due to evaporation of liquid nitrogen from a dewar, liquid nitrogen should be added at regular intervals. And that makes storage procedures rather expensive.
The existing cryobiologocal methods make it possible to freeze microscopic (several millimeters long) animals and small fragments of biological tissues with minimal damage, down to liquid nitrogen temperatures, and then to reverse the process and bring them back to normal functioning. Some insects (slugs and caterpillars of polar butterflies), amphibia (frogs and oriental salamanders) and reptiles (turtles) can be frozen down to -5 - -50° and then recovered after defrosting. For medical purposes, skin, keratoderma, bone marrow, seminal fluid and embryos are frozen down to the liquid nitrogen temperatures for storage and subsequent recovery. In small fragments of cerebral tissue of a full-grown organism neurons electric avivity is actually observed after freezing and defrosting. Intensive research is carried out on freezing separate human organs and it is expected that in the coming 10-20 years promising cryobiological methods will be developed that will make it possible to safly freeze and recover an entire brain! That will provide definitive demonstration that damage made to biological objects at molecular and cellular level during freezing with the use of cryoprotectors, is not lethal. Major damage impeding freezing and subsequent defrosting, as well as recovery of human patients, occurs in the process of freezing large biological objects at organ and tissue levels due to heterogeneous structure of tissues and organs and their uneven and insufficient saturation with cryoprotectants. Owing thereto, gradients of chemical concentration and mechanic tensions are formed, thus leading to the disruption of cell membranes and the formation of small cracks in tissues and organs. Though these injuries are numerous, they do not cause irreversible loss of information in organic structure. And that means that there is a high possibility of their recovery in the future.
4. How Can Revival Be Realized?
4.1. Nanotechnologies and Molecular Robots
Nanotechnology, nanorobotics in particular, is an area of science and technology engaged in the development of devices at the nanometer sale. A nanometer us a billionth part of a meter. A nanobot or: nanite, is a devices consisting of several thousand atoms. These devices are primarily being designed to work with separate atoms and molecules. Interatomic spacing in biological molecules is measured in tenths of a nanometer. Nanotechnology was fostered by the development of the scanning tunnel microscope, a device that makes it possible to study substance at atomic level, to “see” atoms and move individual atoms. The inventors were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1986. Ever since, nanotechnology has been a rapidly developing field of science and technology.
One kind of device developed by nanotechnology, is molecular robots, that is, robots of molecular size. They will be nanocomputerized and equipped with nanoscale manipulators to make it possible actually to operate molecules, for example, to move them and change their structure, that is, to perform molecular surgery. Nature’s own simplest molecular robot is a ribosome (cell ognanelle) that in accordance with programing encoded be evolution into the molecule of ribonucleic acid, assembles protein molecules out of component amino acids.
4.2. A possible Revival Scenario
4.2. Possible Revival Scenario
1. A vast number (millions of billions) of molecular robots (their aggregate weight would amount to about 0.5 kg) are introduced into an embalmed body.
2. They analyze damage that occurred in the organism cells during his death, embalment and storage. When necessary they exchange information among themselves and with an extracorporeal supercomputer controlling and directing their activity
3. Consult the 'The Prospect of Immortality” by Robert Chester Wilson Ettinger for further information4.
4. Following from the above analysis, molecular robots will eliminate all damage inclining disassembled cross-links inside and between molecules, ruptured cellular membranes and organelles, and more. Moreover, they will rejuvenate and cure cells and thus the whole organism. Thence a healthy and youthful organism will be reaminated and not the aged and suck one. Indeed, with such technologies it will be possible to regularly or even constantly rejuvenate the human organism throughout a life of eternal youth.
5. Upon completion of the work, molecular robots depart the resuscitated body, perhaps much in the same way as influenza viruses and other viruses do, through the vascular system and respiratory air passages.
It is estimated that such a procedure might continue for several months. It is estimated that the requisite technology will be developed within the next 50 years or so. If this is correct, then a patient’s body need only be preserved that long. But just to be safe, indefinite storage must be provided.
In case of neuroconservation, it will be necessary to restore the patient’s body one way or another, perhaps by growing a healthy new body from the patient’s own DNA, so that the restored brain will have its new home.
• The History of Cryonics
• Scientific Justification of Cryonics Practice
• Cryonics in the US
• Cryonics in the World