Stranger than Fiction
Half a Brain

Cryonics, Cryogenics

Death in the Deep Freeze

Preserve your Body for a Better Future

Cryogenics: The branch of physics dealing with the production and effects of very low temperatures.

The one certainty in life is death! But, a small group of people are attempting to defy the inevitable. Their ticket to a second life is a controversial experiment with a radical goal - Cryonics.

In the United States of America, there are, currently, two organisations that offer the chance for a future second life: The Cryonics Institute in Clinton Township, Michigan and Alcor in Scottsdale, Arizona.

After they die, patient's bodies are preserved in chemicals designed to. theoretically, protect cellular structure, before being lowered into steel tubes of liquid nitrogen, called dewars. Here they will face an indefinite wait at -196°C in the hope that medical science will discover a way to bring them back to life.

There are currently 147 people in cryogenic suspension, with another 1,000 members signed up for the deep freeze.

Cryonic Storage Facility
Cryogenic Storage Tubes

Cryonics members have two options, they can choose to have the entire body stored, or they can have a neural procedure where only the severed head is frozen. The thinking behind the latter is that an elderly patient will not wish to come back in an old body.

What are the costs for these procedures. Alcor currently charge the equivalent of 80,000 for the full body option and 42,000 for the head only.

Cryonics is an unproven theory. There are scientific obstacles that, some would say, are insurmountable.

The current technique of full-body preservation with cryoprotectant chemicals causes extensive molecular damage to the body. To successfully bring a patient back to life, cryonics would not only need to reverse this damage, but would also have to cure the original illness the patient died from.

Science has already discovered ways to suspend and revive biological life forms. Today, relatively simple living structures such as red blood, stem cells, sperm and embryos are routinely preserved using cryobiology technology.

Gregory Fahy Ph.D At 21st Century Medicines in Rancho Cucamonga, California Chief Scientific Officer Gregory Fahy Ph.D and his team of researchers are at the cutting-edge of cryobiology technology. Their mission is t extend the shelf-life of donor human organs which currently only remain viable for transplant for a few hours.

Gregory and his team have achieved a world first. They have cryopreserved a rabbit kidney, reversed the procedure and successfully re-implanted it without losing the ability to sustain the life of the recipient.

Gregory Fahy said of the achievement: "We have finally accomplished this goal that I've been pursuing since 1972 of being able to vitrify a kidney, warm it back up again, and transplant it and have the animal maintain clinical normalcy indefinitely".


The Initial Stabilisation Procedure

As soon as a patient dies, the aim is to stop cellular decomposition caused by oxygen deprivation. Crucially, brain cells are the first to die.

The first step is to cool the body. For every 10°C drop in temperature there is a 50% reduction in metabolic demand which means it takes twice as long for damage to occur. The aim is to cool the body to just above freezing.

Next, a mechanical chest compressor is used to temporarily restore circulation before injecting a cocktail of medications to stop the blood clotting.

Then, the patient's blood is washed out and replaced with a temporary protective fluid.

Once the body has been transported to the operating theatre, the main preservation process can begin.

Preservation Procedure

The process begins by opening the chest cavity to allow plastic cannulation tubes to be sewn into the heart to provide netry and exit points for the cryoprotectant fluid. These tubes connect to a heart-bypass machine that will pump the cryopreservation fluid around the body.

Current cryonic techniques rely on the success of a process called vitrification. This means replacing over 60% of the water in the body with, potentially toxic, preservation chemicals. When exposed to cryogenic temperatures of below -120°C they react by turning tissue to a glass-like solid.

Throughout the procedure the body is kept packed in ice inside a perspex covering. Liquid nitrogen vapour is regularly pumped around the body to keep the temperature at -3°C.

Rapid Coolin Box
Rapid Cooling Container

After the surgery, the body is transferred to an insulated holding chamber for the rapid cool down stage. Liquid nitrogen vapour is pumped inside and probes will monitor the body's core temperature. The temperature will be dropped rapidly to just above the glass transition point.

The body is then placed in a sleeping-bag and put into a pod which is the permanent storage container where it will be cooled very slowly to liquid nitrogen temperature.

Further Reading: Forever for All: Moral Philosophy of Cryonics - R. Michael Oerry Life in the Frozen State - Barry J. Fuller, Nick Lane, Erica E. Benson