Is cryogenics just an overused cliché of sci-fi literature and cinematography? Perhaps this is not the case if you consider that nearly 300 persons have already chosen to be cryogenically preserved for an indefinite time. The problem is that there is not yet a secure way for bringing them back to life.
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I recently wrote an article for labiotech.eu on cryopreservation. I got interested in this theme after reading of a British 14-years-old girl who was allowed to be cryogenically frozen after her death in the hope to be ‘waken up’ in a future where a cure for her cancer might be available.
Here, I want to focus a little bit more on the technical and scientific problems that science currently faces in the attempt to make cryogenics achievable.
Today there are three companies offering long-term preservation. Two in the US and one in Russia. However, what they are offering is quite controversial, given that with the current scientific knowledge, there is no way of knowing if it will ever be possible to bring back to life those who are already frozen.
Focusing on this aspect, the term to ‘bring back to life’ does not only imply to be cabale of thawing an entire human body; but to do so in a way capable of successfully preserving its integrity, of recovering its organs’ functionality, a person’s brain and – here we jump to the philosophical level – mind.
Scientists can cryopreserve embryos and small amounts of tissue, a common practice in laboratory work. Last year, Gregory Fahy and Robert McIntyre at the company 21st Century Medicine in California, successfully defrosted a rabbit brain. The achieved this goal by replacing blood with glutaraldehyde to prevent tissues dehydration. This is surely a great achievement, with one drawback. Glutaraldehyde is highly, indeed deadly, toxic. So it is quite unlikeable that it will be used in human hibernation. Indeed, although being perfectly intact after a week of cryopreservation, the brain was not functional. This is how far science can currently get.
So, it is no wonder that the vast majority of scientists are currently either not interested or openly against cryopreservation. Speaking about the feasibility of cryopreserving an entire human body, Clive Coen, a professor of neuroscience at King’s College London, said to The Guardian: “The whole body is just ridiculous and the whole brain is only slightly less ridiculous.”
The British case triggered a debate that underlies the lack of proper regulation on this delicate matter. The case of this poor British girl is certainly moving, but what did her family paid for? The answer seems to be hope. But hope was the only thing that remained for her.