17. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Health, Science

The idea that aging is a choice will strike many readers as preposterous and I will admit at the outset that such a position can ultimately not be maintained. But in a milder sense, it should be recognized that we can make decisions in life regarding diet and lifestyle that can mitigate or accelerate the aging process. This “wiggle room” may turn out to be of great importance for reaching a time when serious rejuvenation biotechnologies will become available.

According to biologist Michael R. Rose (see the interview in Cryonics magazine, September 2013) aging is not an immutable process of wear and tear that unfolds through iron logic without being sensitive to lifestyle and diet. Aging begins after the start of reproduction and the forces of natural selection decline with chronological age, eventually stopping at late age (which raises the possibility that aging stops).

Some things that we associate with aging are not inevitable physiological processes but choices or decisions to conform to expectations. For example, when people reach adulthood, and pursue a family and career, they often conform to a lifestyle that involves more time sitting at a desk or in cars, more time spent inside, less time socializing with friends, and are subject to increasing amounts of stress and sleep deprivation.

As the physiological consequences of such a lifestyle (obesity, higher blood pressure, declining free hormone levels) express themselves many people tell themselves such things are the inevitable effects of getting older. But alternative scenarios may be possible if we remain aware of our environment, lifestyle, and diet.

In the case of diet, the dominant opinion remains that a healthy diet can be identified regardless of age, sex, and population group. There is increasing evidence, however, that such a perspective leaves a lot to be desired and that too much reductionism in these matters is not a good thing. There are, however, a number of observations that can be made. Restriction of calories (or intermittent fasting or meal skipping) seems to trigger a beneficial stress response that improves health and perhaps even extends life. Similarly, adopting a diet that more closely mimics that of hunter gatherers in conjunction with giving up a sedentary lifestyle has been successful in improving the lives (and looks!) of many people, in particular in the case of obesity.

What makes it rather difficult to adopt such lifestyle changes is that we are almost continuously exposed to an environment that makes it rather difficult to effect such changes. Most of our food is highly processed, loaded with carbs and sugar, and served in portion sizes that always seem to increase. When we move from one location to another the emphasis is on minimizing energy expenditure and eliminating resistance. We work in dark and confined spaces during the day and are exposed to light until we go to sleep (or sometimes even during sleep!). When we come home we turn on the television or the computer to “socialize.” It should not surprise us that such an “unnatural” lifestyle translates into the classic signs of aging and functional deterioration.

There is a lot at stake here. As daunting as it may seem, the idea that aging is not a uniform “process” that swallows us up at a constant rate opens up the possibilities of positive change. Armed with the latest findings in evolutionary biology and medicine we can start pushing back, stabilize the situation as best as we can, and reach a time when more radical rejuvenation biotechnologies will become available. Start moving, start lifting, go camping, make new friends, eat organic and fermented foods, skip the occasional meal, and cut the sugar!

Originally published as a column (Quod incepimus conficiemus) in Cryonics magazine, October, 2013

26. November 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Cryonics, Neuroscience, Science, Society

[This interview was originally published in Cryonics magazine September 2013]

By Stephen Cave

This magazine generously reviewed my book Immortality: The Quest to Live Forever and How it Drives Civilization in the November/December 2012 edition. But the reviewer argued that I didn’t properly understand cryonics — so I decided to speak to a leading expert. This interview, with Cryonics Magazine’s editor Aschwin de Wolf, is the result. Parts of the interview appeared originally in Aeon Magazine (http://www.aeonmagazine.com)

What is cryonics?

(Stephen Cave) Cryonics is sometimes described as “medical time travel” – is that how you see it?

(Aschwin de Wolf) Yes, that is a good characterization. What sets cryonics apart from other medical procedures is not uncertainty (which is an element of many experimental medical treatments) but the temporal separation of stabilization and treatment. Cryonics reflects the recognition that a disease considered terminal today might be treatable in the future.

Does/will cryonics work?

What is the largest (or most complex) organism (or tissue) that has been successfully cryopreserved and revived (or reversibly vitrified)?

A rabbit kidney has been vitrified and successfully transplanted with long-term survival. Another major achievement that supports the practice of cryonics is the successful vitrification and functional recovery of rat hippocampal brain slices.

In terms of whole organisms, tardigrades and certain insect larvae have been successfully recovered after cryopreservation at low sub-zero temperatures.

What breakthroughs in cryopreservation are still required? When do you think they might come?

Recovery of organized electrical activity in the whole brain (EEG) after vitrification and rewarming would provide further support for the practice of cryonics. This may be achieved in about 5 to 10 years. Long term, the aim should be true suspended animation of a mammal.

It is important to recognize, however, that the damage associated with today’s cryonics procedures only excludes meaningful future resuscitation if the original state of the brain cannot be inferred. Damage-free cryopreservation would be sufficient but it is not necessary to justify practicing cryonics today.

Cryonics depends upon faith in technological progress and social stability (such that well-disposed scientists and physicians in the future will be both able and inclined to revive cryonics patients). Why do you believe the future will be so utopian?

In my opinion, it is more reasonable to ask why anyone would make decisions on the premise that medical progress would come to a screeching halt. Cryonics patients have time, and successful resuscitation does not necessarily require fast or accelerated progress. Cryonics does not rest on an utopian, but on a very conservative, premise.

Resuscitation of cryonics patients is the foremost responsibility of a cryonics organization. That is why organizations like Alcor set aside substantial amounts of money in a separate trust to allow for the maintenance and eventual resuscitation of the patient.

Social acceptance

Why do you think cryonics is not more popular?

It would be tempting to say that cryonics is not more popular because most people do not think it will work. The problem with this explanation is that hundreds of millions of people believe in all kinds of things for which there is no strong empirical evidence at all, such as astrology. In addition, when faced with a terminal prognosis people have a really low threshold for believing in the most implausible treatments.  If the popularity of cryonics would be a function of its scientific and technical feasibility, we should have seen major increases in support when new technologies, such as vitrification, were introduced.

The most likely explanation, in my opinion, is that people fear social alienation and solitary resuscitation in an unknown future. In fact, writers such as Arthur C. Clark, who strongly believed that cryonics will work, personally admitted as much. This is a real challenge for cryonics organizations but there is a growing interest in topics such as reintegration of cryonics patients.

Do you think there might be a tipping point in its popularity? What might bring such a tipping point about?

Scientific and technological breakthroughs in cryobiology (suspended animation) and cell repair will certainly help, but if fear of the future holds most people back there may not be such a tipping point. It is possible, however, that in certain demographical groups making cryonics arrangements will be recognized as the normal, rational, thing to do. Something like is already happening in subcultures that are interested in human enhancement or reducing bias in decision making.

Do you think there will be a day when cryonics is the normal procedure for treating those with diseases incurable by contemporary medicine?

Yes, or at least some kind of long term stabilization procedure will be used for people that cannot be treated by contemporary medicine. I find it hard to imagine that people will persist in burying or burning a person just because there is no treatment today. That is just irrational and reckless.

Philosophy and legal status of cryonics

Are those who are currently cryopreserved, in your view, actually dead?

No. But I do not think we can just claim that they are alive in the conventional sense of the word either, although that may change if we can demonstrate that cryopreservation can preserve viability of the brain.

If not, what state do you consider them to be in?

If the original state of the brain, what some scientists call the “connectome,” can be inferred and restored, cryonics patients are not dead in a more rigorous sense of the word. Their identities are still with us in an information-theoretical sense.

What legal status do you think those who are cryopreserved should have?

They should have much stronger legal status than the deceased have today. While a meaningful philosophical/technical distinction could be made between conventional patients and cryonics patients I think we need to err on the side of caution and give them the same kind of protection as other patients with terminal diseases.

At the very least, obstacles to conducting good human cryopreservation in hospitals should be eliminated because a lot of reservations people have about cryonics are not intrinsic features of the procedure but the results of cryonics organizations being forced to practice cryonics as a form of emergency medicine.

When should it be legal for someone to have themselves cryopreserved (eg, any time? when diagnosed with a terminal illness? or only when brain-dead according to current definitions? etc)

If a patient has been diagnosed as “terminal,” that is basically an admission of the physician that (s)he has exhausted contemporary medical treatment options. At that point it is prudent to identify other means of saving the patient’s life, including stabilizing them at lower temperatures for future treatment. This is particularly important if the patient is in a condition where continued metabolism will progressively destroy the brain. Such a procedure would be the opposite of assisted suicide because its aim would be to preserve life, not to end it.

Ethical considerations

The overpopulation problem: if a few generations of people do all have themselves cryopreserved, then when technology permits them to be revived and healed, will there not be an enormous population boom? How will this be managed?

There are several responses to this question. The most obvious one is to draw attention to the fact that today’s socio-economic debates in the West are about the consequences of a decline in population in the future as a consequence of people having fewer children.

It is also important to recognize that cryonics does not operate in a sociological, psychological, and technological vacuum. If support for the procedure changes so will our views on reproduction and sustainability.

Of course, it should not even be assumed that future generations will be confined to one planet (Earth). 

What do you say to the idea that death gives meaning or shape to life?

Cryonics is not a permanent cure for death. There may always be catastrophic events that could irreversibly kill a person or whole populations. In fact, it may never be possible to know that we will not die for the simple fact that this would require absolute knowledge about the infinite future.

Having said this, no, I do not think that death gives meaning to life. That is just an admission that the things that matter do not have intrinsic value but are experienced with mortality as a framework. Neither introspection nor observation of ordinary life suggests this.

In fact, I suspect that short human life-spans have an adverse effect on morality because it fosters instant gratification and indifference about long-term reputation and/or consequences.

On the other hand, do you think we are morally obliged to practice cryonics (as we might be to try to prolong life in other ways)?

My qualified answer is “yes.” If we believe that the aim of medicine is to preserve life and reduce suffering, cryonics is a logical extension of this thinking. Cryonics is not only a rational response to the recognition that science and technologies can evolve, but it also can be important to stabilize devastating cases of acute brain trauma.

You

When did you first become interested in life-extension technology?

In my case, my interest in life extension was a consequence of making cryonics arrangements.

When did you first hear about cryonics? When did you sign up for it?

I first read about cryonics on the internet in the mid-1990s. The idea seemed quite reasonable to me but I did not consider it as something that had direct personal relevance to me at the time. This changed in 2002 when a rather trivial medical condition prompted me to think more seriously about my remaining life and mortality. I read a lot of cryonics literature in a short period of time, attended the Alcor conference that autumn, and finalized making cryonics arrangements in January 2003.

Do you proselytize among friends and acquaintances? Have you had much luck in persuading others to sign up for cryonics?

Unless I know that a person has a strong interest in making cryonics arrangements, I generally do not explicitly try to persuade them. This is partly because I do not want people to get defensive in response to the idea. In cases where I know that the person is very open to cryonics, I put more effort into it. I think I have been successful in persuading around 4 people to make cryonics arrangements. There may be more that I am unaware of because of all the writing that I do.

Are you pursuing life-extension practices in the hope that you won’t need to be cryopreserved?

Yes. As most people with cryonics arrangements, I have a strong interest in life extension and rejuvenation research. I am not very optimistic about short-term breakthroughs so I try to eat healthy, exercise, and avoid dangerous activities and excessive stress.

What is your educational background?

I graduated in political science at the University of Amsterdam and have a strong interest in economics and philosophy as well. Over time my academic interests have mostly shifted to biology and neuroscience – also because of the experimental research that I am involved in.

What is your involvement with Alcor or other cryonics institutes/firms?

I have been an Alcor member for 10 years and have been employed in cryonics either as an employee or on a contract basis since 2004. My main activities right now are to conduct neural cryobiology research in my lab at Advanced Neural Biosciences and to edit Alcor’s monthly magazine, Cryonics.

I have always had a good relationship with the other major cryonics organization, the Cryonics Institute, too. In fact, without its support, and its individual members’ support, our research would not have been possible.

What would be your best guess for the year when you will be revived by the scientists of the future? What might the world look like then?

I do not think that there is a uniform year for all cryonics patients. Much will depend on the condition of the patient and prevailing technologies and capabilities at the time. For a typical patient, I doubt we are going to see meaningful resuscitation attempts before 2075.

If the past is any guidance, the (far) future will be a combination of things that have always been with us and things we cannot even imagine right now. I suspect that the most characteristic change in the future will be a seamless integration of human technology and biology and greater control over the aging process. 

22. November 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Cryonics, Science

Can a case for cryonics be made on skeptical grounds? If we’d have to believe self-identified skeptics this is not only unlikely but cryonics, in fact, is a “logical” target for skeptical scrutiny. The most obvious approach for a skeptic is to demand “proof ” for cryonics. Upon closer inspection, this apparently reasonable demand is rather odd. Let’s start with a non-controversial definition of cryonics: cryonics is a form of critical care medicine that stabilizes critically ill patients at ultra-low temperatures to allow the patient to benefit from future advances in medicine. Now, what could this demand for “proof ” consist of? Does the cryonics advocate need to provide proof that future developments in medicine will indeed be capable of treating the patient? How could such a proof be even remotely possible? The most scientifically responsible answer would be to say “I don’t know.” And this answer reveals something important about cryonics. The decision to make cryonics arrangements is a form of decision making under uncertainty. Asking for “proof ” for such a decision makes little sense.

“Now wait a second,” someone might add. “It is correct that we do not have absolute knowledge about the future but, surely, science must have some kind of bearing on the question of whether it is rational to make cryonics arrangements?” This much can be admitted. And if we actually look at the science (or the history of medicine) that is relevant to make informed decisions about cryonics we find a number of encouraging observations. Medicine is increasingly recognizing the rather arbitrary nature of death. From the first clumsy attempts to restore circulation and breathing in patients with sudden circulatory arrest to today’s sophisticated protocols that employ aggressive CPR, hypothermia, and emergency cardiopulmonary bypass, our ability to resuscitate people from states in which they would have been previously been considered “dead” is moving towards ever-longer periods of circulatory arrest. In fact, in some advanced medical procedures, hypothermic circulatory arrest is deliberately induced. Such developments are backed up by histological research where it has been established that the neuroanatomical basis of identity does not just implode within 5 minutes of circulatory arrest. Observation of nature also supports the view that cessation of metabolism does not equal death.

“Well, I will admit that science and technology are constantly challenging our beliefs about death but the cryopreservation process itself causes irreparable injury to the patient,” is a common rejoinder to this argument. But this puts our skeptical friend in a rather incoherent position. Having first recognized that we cannot have absolute knowledge about the future capabilities of science, (s)he does not feel the slightest contradiction in claiming that certain kinds of damage cannot be repaired by any future medical technology.

Contemporary cryobiology now informs us that if cooling rates are not too rapid, ice formation does not explode cells from the inside, that ice-free cryopreservation (vitrification) is possible, and that mammalian brain slices can be vitrified and rewarmed with good ultrastructural preservation and viability. The situation is even better than what we might hope for because even if the damage associated with cryopreservation was substantial, it might still be possible to infer the original state from the damaged state. As we are increasingly recognizing in such diverse fields such as forensic science and paleogenetics, it is actually very, very hard to destroy information to such a degree that nothing meaningful can be inferred from what is left.

Then why has cryonics traditionally gotten such a poor reception by people who see themselves as “skeptics?” I suspect that some of it has to do with the fact that cryonics is traditionally associated with (religious) concepts such as immortality, very optimistic projections about the accelerating growth of science and technology, the technical feasibility of specific repair technologies (such as molecular nanotechnology), or mind uploading. But none of these ideas is an intrinsic part of the idea of cryonics. In its most basic form cryonics is just the recognition that what might be beyond the scope of contemporary medicine may be treatable in the future. No specific timeframe or technology is implied, or necessary. There are a lot of things that people in liquid nitrogen don’t have, but one thing they do have is time.

Contemporary science can weaken or strengthen the case for cryonics but it cannot tell with absolute certainty what our medical capabilities in the remote future will be. Saying that some kind of damage cannot be repaired by any future science is not an exercise of critical thinking but ultimately an appeal to authority. How many times do we have to revise our views about death and forecasting before we recognize that we are playing a fool’s game and that the proper, skeptical, approach is to refrain from dogmatic statements and naïve inductivism about such matters? The idea that, right here, right now, in 2013, we are at a time where we can make absolute certain claims about the future capabilities of science and technologies is preposterous. In absence of such knowledge we’d better refrain from doing harm and allow for the possibility that time will be on the side of cryonics patients.

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A “Skeptic” on Cryonics: A Brief Case Study

Self-identified “skeptic” Dr. Michael Shermer wrote a column called “Nano Nonsense and Cryonics” (Scientific American, Sept. 2001) that includes a sensationalist description of cryonics with a number of factual errors:

“Cryonicists believe that people can be frozen immediately after death and reanimated later when the cure for what ailed them is found. To see the flaw in this system, thaw out a can of frozen strawberries. During freezing, the water within each cell expands, crystallizes, and ruptures the cell membranes. When defrosted, all the intracellular goo oozes out, turning your strawberries into runny mush. This is your brain on cryonics.”

Since the early days of cryonics, standard procedure has been to circulate a cryoprotectant through the circulatory system of the patient to reduce ice formation. In fact, when Shermer wrote his column the Alcor Life Extension Foundation had not only published a study that showed good histological preservation of the brain with a high concentration glycerol solution but had also introduced the newer technology of vitrification to eliminate ice formation completely. Shermer’s description of the effects of ice formation on cells is factually incorrect too, as anyone who would just casually study modern cryobiology could have discovered. Finally, one does not need to have a detailed understanding of cryonics protocols to realize that the fate of a thawed frozen brain has little to do with the resuscitation scenarios envisioned for molecular repair of the cryopreserved brain.

One can only speculate why Shermer did not inform himself about some basic facts about cryonics and cryobiology. One explanation is that there is no “cost” to being wrong about cryonics. If Shermer would make such careless statements about physics or chemistry his reputation would be much more likely to take a blow because there are numerous people who would identify these errors.

Shermer also ridicules the immortalist and transhumanist activists associated with cryonics:

“I want to believe the cryonicists. Really I do. I gave up on religion in college, but I often slip back into my former evangelical fervor, now directed toward the wonders of science and nature. But this is precisely why I’m skeptical. It is too much like religion: it promises everything, delivers nothing (but hope) and is based almost entirely on faith in the future.”

Such a perspective confuses the subculture of cryonics with the idea of cryonics itself. You can read religious aspirations into cryonics but you can also ignore them to look at the idea in its most charitable form.

Cryonics is an experimental medical procedure that allows people that cannot be sustained by contemporary medical technologies to reach a time when a treatment for their condition may be available. Such decision making under uncertainty has nothing to do with “faith” and “hope” but requires that we update our probabilities based on the available evidence from fields such as neuroscience, cryobiology, and molecular nanotechnology. While Shermer has later (rather unsuccessfully) attempted to qualify the statements made in his original article, his column is rather representative of how many critics of cryonics operate; mischaracterize its premises and procedures, avoid a discussion of the technical feasibility of molecular repair, and change the subject to psychological and philosophical issues.

Originally published as a column (Quod incepimus conficiemus) in Cryonics magazine September 2013

05. October 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Science, Society

A friend of mine in the life extension movement who is approaching age 65 once lamented that he might be part of the last generation that will not be able to take advantage of the rejuvenation biotechnologies that become available to the next generation. I wish I could believe him because it means that I may still be in time! Unfortunately, interest in anti-aging research and cryonics is rather low (to put it mildly), even among baby boomers who one might expect to be painfully aware of the aging process. It is rather disturbing to me that the aging process itself is not being identified as a source of misery, disease, separation, and oblivion. Then again, perhaps I am just too impatient and unable to see the larger picture.

The practical production of liquid nitrogen from liquefied air was first achieved by Carl von Linde in 1905, although liquid nitrogen only became widely available commercially after World War II. The idea of cryonics was introduced to the general public in the mid-1960s. Since liquid nitrogen (or liquid helium) is an essential requirement for human cryopreservation it is interesting to recognize that there was only a difference of roughly 20 years between cryonics being technically possible and the first efforts to practice cryonics. Is this an outrageously long delay? I doubt anyone would argue this.

Similarly, while the idea of rejuvenation has always appealed to humans (think about Countess Elizabeth Bathory), I doubt anyone can credibly claim that there has been a long delay between our recognition of biological senescence and the desire to see aging as a biotechnological challenge to overcome. While there is no massive global movement to fight aging yet, the desire to conquer aging is as old as the exposition of (secular) modern evolutionary biology
itself. Are we too impatient?

What is disappointing, however, is the widespread passive acceptance of aging and death by the majority of people. Thinking about this issue, it struck me that until recently our (educational) institutions and research programs were shaped by generations that were perhaps eminently amenable to accepting the inevitability of aging. Expecting these institutions and research programs to change their objectives overnight may not be completely realistic. It is undeniable, however, that the idea that aging is not something that is to be passively accepted but something that can be stopped and reversed is gradually winning more converts.

I suspect this observation will not provide much solace for my aging friend. But one of the nice features of cryonics is that it is possible to benefit from future rejuvenation technologies regardless of whether one happens to live to the time when such technologies become available. In fact, for some people that might be one of the most appealing reasons to make cryonics arrangements. Case in point, in my own situation I am not so much scared of death as I am fascinated by the idea of seeing the aging process reversed, not just for myself but for others, too. I cannot think of a greater human achievement than the introduction of effective, evidence-based, rejuvenation.

I am comfortable with the idea that I may not live to see rejuvenation biotechnologies becoming available before I am cryopreserved, provided I am able to take advantage of them later. Of course, I’d prefer to be there (without interruption!) when it happens. People may have different reasons to desire cryonics—we need to recognize this diversity of motives instead of just trying to “sell” the one reason that is important to us. Then perhaps, maybe, we can accelerate the identification of aging as a condition to be stopped.

Originally published as a column (Quod incepimus conficiemus) in Cryonics magazine August 2013

04. October 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Cryonics, Science

The goal of any credible cryonics organization is to develop reversible cryopreservation to avoid passing on problems with the cryopreservation process itself to the next generation. While there is a lot of recognition for the need to eliminate cryoprotectant toxicity, it is rather obvious that it will not be possible to restore integrated function in a fractured brain.

The 2011 3rd Quarter issue of Cryonics magazine features a comprehensive update on intermediate temperature storage (ITS) by Dr. Brian Wowk. This article contains an important observation:

“Acoustic events consistent with fracturing were found to be universal during cooling through the cryogenic temperature range. They occurred whether patients were frozen or vitrified. If cryoprotection is good, they typically begin below the glass transition temperature (-123°C for M22 vitrification solution). If cryoprotective perfusion does not go well, then fracturing events begin at temperatures as warm as -90°C. Higher fracturing temperatures are believed to occur when tissue freezes instead of vitrifies because freezing increases the glass transition temperature of solution between ice crystals. The temperature at which fractures begin is therefore believed to be a surrogate measure of goodness of cryoprotection, with lower temperatures being better.”

This is an important observation because one of the arguments that is still being made against intermediate temperature storage is that Alcor routinely records fracturing events above the nominal glass transition temperature (Tg) of the vitrification solution. But if we recognize that such events can be (partly) attributed to ice formation due to ischemia-induced perfusion impairment it should be obvious that the recording of fracturing events above Tg as such cannot be an argument against ITS. After all, we also do not argue against the use of vitrification solutions because ice formation will still occur in ischemic patients that are perfused with vitrification solutions. Because cryonics patients almost invariably suffer some degree of ischemia prior to cryoprotective perfusion and cryopreservation, our knowledge about fracturing events in “ideal” human cases remains incomplete.

Hugh Hixon has developed a “crackphone” to detect acoustic events that are presumed to reflect fracturing events. A preliminary survey of the data reveals, roughly, that the first temperature at which cracking events are recorded is lower for the newer generation of vitrification solutions than for the older glycerol solutions. Does this mean that fracturing occurs at lower temperatures in “vitrified” patients? “The lowest first fracturing event recorded at Alcor was at a temperature of -134°C for M22.”

Is this what we can expect for M22 for all patients, or was this an “ideal” case, too? Would -130°C be a safe storage temperature? Does molecular-scale ice nucleation, as distinct from ice growth, constitute damage? Despite all the articles and discussions that have been devoted to the topic of intermediate temperature storage, we do not seem to know much yet about fracturing in (large) tissues that are well equilibrated with a vitrification solution and subjected to a responsible cooling protocol. While the crackphone data seem to support the use of the newer vitrification solutions for reducing fracturing, controlled studies of fracturing in vitrified tissues will need to be conducted in a lab to really understand what we can expect under ideal (non-ischemic) circumstances.

Originally published as a column (Quod incepimus conficiemus) in Cryonics magazine July 2013

29. April 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Cryonics, Science, Society

On Sunday May 12, 2013, the Institute for Evidence Based Cryonics will organize a symposium about the resuscitation and reintegration of cryonics patients in Portland, Oregon. To our knowledge, this is the first public meeting exclusively concerned with the repair, resuscitation, and reintegration of cryonics patients.

The symposium is being held at The Cleaners at Ace Hotel (The Cleaners at Ace Hotel 403 SW 10TH AVE, 97205) in downtown Portland, Oregon from 10:00 am to 07:00 pm.

Admission is free. Registration for the event is possible at the event Facebook page.

On Saturday evening, the day prior to the symposium, Aubrey de Grey and Max More will be speaking about rejuvenation biotechnologies and cryonics at the Paragon Restaurant & Bar in Portland, Oregon.

Admission for this event is free and registration for this event is possible on the event Facebook page, too.

The current line-up of speakers is as follows (the exact schedule will be announced soon):
BEN BEST – EFFECTS OF TEMPERATURE ON PRESERVATION AND RESTORATION OF CRYONICS PATIENTS

Macromolecular temperature is a quantification of atomic-level molecular motion. The ability to maintain and reconstruct cryonics patients could be critically dependent on low temperature atomic/molecular motion and on the ability to operate nanomachines at cryogenic temperatures. Possible problems and solutions will be discussed.

Bio: Ben Best was President of the Cryonics Society of Canada for about a decade, after which he was President of the Cryonics Institute for nearly a decade. He is currently Director of Research Oversight for the Life Extension Foundation. The cryonics section of his website is one of the best sources of information about the science behind cryonics available on the internet ( www.benbest.com/cryonics/cryonics.html )

CHANA DE WOLF – RECONSTRUCTIVE CONNECTOMICS

Complete preservation of the “connectome” should be sufficient for meaningful resuscitation attempts of cryonics patients but it may not be necessary. As long as the original connectome can be inferred from what is preserved, damage associated with cerebral ischemia or suboptimal cryonics technologies do not necessarily exclude future resuscitation. In this presentation I will present a general framework for reconstructive connectomics and explore theoretical and experimental research directions for reconstructing damaged and altered connectomes.

Bio: Chana de Wolf lives in Portland, Oregon, where she works as a business manager and biomedical researcher. She holds a B.S. in Experimental Psychology (2001), an M.S. in Cognition and Neuroscience (2003), and has extensive management and laboratory experience. She has several years of experience working as a research assistant in a variety of laboratory environments, and has taught college-level courses in neuroscience lab methods and biology. She is a Director and researcher for Advanced Neural Biosciences. Chana joined as a member of the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in 2007 where she also worked as a Research Associate at Alcor to help build a sustainable, multi-faceted cryonics research program

RANDAL KOENE – BRAIN EMULATION AND NEUROPROSTHETICS: A SYSTEM OF FUNCTIONS TO BE SUSTAINED

Being, now or following revival from cryopreservation, ultimately depends on one’s ability to experience and to do so in the manner that is characteristic of one’s individual mind. Recently, it has become possible to address this problem in a concrete and systematic manner, largely due to rapid advances in computational neuroscience and data acquisition, both structurally (the popular field of “connectomics”) and functionally (brain activity mapping). The process of personal experience – like any process – involves some mechanisms operating at a given time under the influence of an environment state, a state that can include sensory input and functional “memory” established as a result of prior conditions. An emulation or prosthesis is then the attempt to replace a system of processing with an equivalent set of mechanisms that carry out the same processing within established success criteria. The engineering approach to understanding a system sufficiently that it can be emulated or replaced by prostheses is known as system identification. I will describe how system identification may be feasibly carried out for an individual human brain, and how constraints and requirements can be learned through projects with iterative improvements. I will present the projects that are underway to develop neuroscience tools with which successful system identification may be accomplished.

Bio: Dr. Randal A. Koene is CEO and Founder of the not-for-profit science foundation Carboncopies.org as well as the neural interfaces company NeuraLink Co. Dr. Koene is Science Director of the 2045 Initiative and a scientific board member in several neurotechnology companies and organizations.

MAX MORE – MAXIMIZING REVIVAL PROBABILITY: PRESERVATION, RECORDING, INTERPOLATION, AND RECONSTRUCTION

The proper ultimate goal of cryonics is reversible suspended animation. While we should continually strive for that goal, we do not know if or when it will be fully achieved. Until then, we must grapple with the probability that cryopreservation will in itself not fully preserve personal identity critical information. A revived individual may be missing pieces of his or her life, or some of the existing pieces may be fuzzier than they were before clinical death. It may be feasible to fill in the gaps and to sharpen the focus by feeding into the repair and revival process biographical information with a high degree of resolution. That information may also serve to validate the accuracy of a reconstructed connectome. Up to the present, cryonics organizations have offered minimal storage of personal-identity relevant information. In this talk, I will consider ways in which members of cryonics organizations could use the emerging tools and technologies associated with the “Quantified Self” concept to capture and record detailed biographical information, and how cryonics organizations could assist with this and convey the resulting data to a future capable of repairing and resuscitating cryonics patients.

Bio: Max More is the President & Chief Executive Officer of the Alcor Life Extension Foundation. More has a degree in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics from St. Anne’s College, Oxford University (1984-87). He was awarded a Dean’s Fellowship in Philosophy in 1987 by the University of Southern California. He studied and taught philosophy at USC with an emphasis on philosophy of mind, ethics, and personal identity, completing his Ph.D. in 1995, with a dissertation that examined issues including the nature of death, and what it is about each individual that continues despite great change over time.

KEEGAN MACINTOSH – REINTEGRATION OF CRYONICS PATIENTS: LEGAL AND LOGISTICAL CONSIDERATIONS

Given the host of complicated problems to be solved before resuscitation of cryonics patients is possible, it is easy to leave planning for their reintegration for another day. However, this assumes that there is nothing particularly important that can be done about reintegration prior to patient cryopreservation, which might be impossible, or at least far more difficult afterward. It also underestimates the impact that fear of dis-integration has on individuals’ decisions on whether to sign up for cryonics, which might be alleviated if we had more concrete plans for reintegration, with presently actionable components. In this talk, Keegan Macintosh will survey several aspects of cryonics patient reintegration, both legal and logistical, that can be tangibly worked on today.

Bio: Keegan Macintosh received his J.D. from the University of British Columbia in 2012, and is Executive Director of the Lifespan Society of British Columbia, a non-profit organization established to educate the public on life extension strategies and protect access to potentially life-saving technologies. Keegan is a board member of the Institute for Evidence Based Cryonics, as well as the Cryonics Society of Canada.

ASCHWIN DE WOLF – CRYONICS WITHOUT REPAIR

Cryonics aims to stabilize critically ill patients at low temperatures in anticipation of future medical treatment. While the concept of cell repair is often associated with the practice of cryonics, it is not an intrinsic element of the procedure. Advanced cryonics technologies will permit reversible cryopreservation of the patient. If human suspended animation would be achieved cryonics would solely involve future treatment of the patient’s disease and its underlying pathologies. In this talk I will discuss why reversible cryopreservation is important and which technical obstacles need to be overcome to make it a reality.

Bio: Aschwin is a Director and researcher for Advanced Neural Biosciences, the editor of Cryonics magazine, serves as a consultant for a number of cryonics organizations, and has published technical articles on various cryonics topics.

14. January 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Cryonics, Neuroscience, Science

Some observers believe that cryonics advocates are reluctant to subject their theories to experimental scrutiny because this could damage their (uncritical) belief in future resuscitation. Similarly, one might think that cryonicists would react with a mix of hostility and dismissal to alternative strategies for personal survival. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, it is exactly because our personal survival is at stake that forces us to be wary of dogmatism.

For this reason, I have always been interested in chemical fixation as a (low cost) alternative for cryonics. In fact, years before all the talk about the “connectome” and “plastination” I spent considerable time exchanging messages with Michael Perry at Alcor about the technical and practical feasibility of chemical brain preservation. But no matter how open minded I tried to be about this approach, I kept running into the same challenges over and over again.

The challenge that has concerned me the most is whether a delayed start of chemical brain fixation will produce incomplete distribution of the chemical fixative in the brain because of ischemia-induced perfusion impairment. Thinking about the technical problem of “no-reflow” is not the first thing on the mind of someone who first hears about the idea of using chemical fixatives to preserve the brain. In my case, this concern was not just “theoretical.” In my lab I have spent many years looking at the effects of cerebral ischemia on cryopreservation and chemical fixation. Last year we decided to broaden our investigations to delayed chemical fixation and we have not been pleased at what we have observed so far. After 1.5 years of room temperature storage the delayed aldehyde fixed brains are falling apart and continue to decompose. In small animals one might imagine that such perfusion impairment could be overcome by immersing the brains in the fixative instead but human brains are simply too large. By the time that the fixative would have reached the core of the brain, extensive autolysis will have occurred.

Another complex problem is to identify a fixation and polymerization protocol that fixes all identity-critical parts of the brain. If aldehydes do not completely fix the lipids in the brain, should we add strong oxidizing heavy metals to stabilize lipids? This is possible in theory but, as a general rule, these chemicals are either very expensive or dangerous to use (or both). Even if we are able to identify a chemical fixation protocol for the brain that can do the job, how can we know that such brains are stable for very long periods of time? Should we follow fixation by embedding with a polymer to inhibit residual biochemical activity? To my knowledge, there is no known embedding protocol that is scalable to human brains due to the extreme viscosity of these plastics.

Recently these issues took a more personal nature for me when I had to think really hard about a reasonable but affordable longterm preservation protocol for a companion animal. I spent many days reading the electron microscopy and fixation literature to come up with a protocol that was better than aldehyde fixation and low temperature storage. Adding calcium to the fixative? What about phenol? Post-fixation perfusion of a viscous cryoprotectant to allow storage at subzero temperatures? That is when I really started appreciating the “magic” of cold temperatures.

Absent a vitrification agent, cryogenic temperatures can cause extensive damage to cells. But one thing we know: whatever the nature of this damage, as soon the brain is below the glass transition temperature of -130°C, all water is either frozen or a vitrified rigid solid. We do not have to worry about any damage getting worse over time, or whether some biomolecules have not been fixed. Cold may be “crude” in its effects but it is exactly because no biochemical process can escape inhibition at very low temperatures that makes it such a powerful personal survival technology.

Originally published as a column (Quod incepimus conficiemus) in Cryonics magazine, January, 2013

17. October 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Cryonics, Science

A common complaint against cryonics is that existing cryopreservation technologies may not be good enough to preserve the ultrastructure of the human brain. Advocates of cryonics often object that such views do not reflect actual inspection of the evidence of cryopreserved brains but instead reflect misconceptions about “freezing” and ice formation rupturing cells. But the more fundamental misconception rests on the view that for cryonics to work flawless preservation of the brain is absolutely essential.

This view is not only mistaken but holds cryonics to higher standards than those applied in conventional medicine. In medicine it is routine for patients to present themselves with conditions in which an organ or tissue has been changed from its normal condition (or appearance) as a result of disease or trauma. Restoring normal structure or function is the essence of most medical treatments.

One might object that in the case of cryonics we are concerned with the brain, which distinguishes itself from other organs that encodes highly individual information. If a portion of the brain is erased we cannot consult another brain or medical textbook to infer its original state. We can admit that this is a valid observation but it is not necessarily a fatal argument against cryonics, provided the damage has not reached the point of complete destruction or indecipherability.

There is a difference between damage and obliteration. If we look at electron micrographs of brain tissue produced at various points in time after circulatory arrest (“death”) we will observe progressive alterations of synapses, cell membranes, organelles etc. We describe such changes with a mental (or actual) map of how they normally look like in mind. At this level the fact that the brain is a highly individual organ is no longer relevant because we know the universal biochemical language in which this identity is written. At this point the real question becomes at which point is it not even possible to infer the original condition of the brain. As far as we understand this today, this may be a question of many hours, if not days.

This robustness of identity-critical information in the brain may seem to contradict the routine observation in emergency medicine that there is a much narrower time limit for successful resuscitation from cardiac arrest. The crucial difference here is that we are no longer talking about the ability to infer identity-critical information but restore physiological function. But function is a lot more vulnerable to metabolic and biochemical changes than the wiring of the brain. In fact, if function were a necessary requirement to infer information a lot of existing forensic and archeological science would be impossible.

In approaching cryonics it is important to recognize the distinction between preserving and inferring. In this way we can better assess the prospects for resuscitating patients who were cryopreserved under nonideal conditions and/or with older technologies.

Originally published as a column (Quod incepimus conficiemus) in Cryonics magazine 2012-5.

25. July 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Health, Science

As we learn more about the human genome, there will be an increasing recognition that general diet recommendations are going to give way to diet recommendations that more closely track the genotype of individuals. For those interested in healthy life extension an important question concerns the relationship between ApoE status and diet. In Why We Age : What Science Is Discovering About the Body’s Journey Through Life (1997) Steven N. Austad writes:

.. piles of evidence suggest that certain genes have a major impact on the development of atherosclerosis, probably the major disease of aging in the Western world. One of those genes is the Apolipoprotein E, usually abbreviated ApoE, which is involved in processing dietary fat. People with one form of the gene, called e4, have higher blood cholesterol (as well as higher LDL, or ”bad” cholesterol) levels than people with other forms of the gene. Finns have the highest rate of atherosclerosis in the world and also have one of the world’s highest frequencies of e4. The Japanese have the world’s lowest national rate of atherosclerosis and also among the world’s lowest frequency of e4. So you could call e4 an atherosclerosis gene. But this would be misleading, because the world’s highest frequency of e4 is found in a country, Papua New Guinea, where until recently atherosclerosis was virtually unknown.

People living in the bush in Papua New Guinea eat a low-fat diet (less than 5 percent fat, compared with 30 to 40 percent fat in an American diet) from necessity rather than choice. Their daily life also involves exercise at levels that would cripple or kill most Americans, even the athletically inclined….So genes operate not in a vacuum but in a specific environment. This is something to bear in mind when reading of the discovery of new “longevity” genes. For instance, there is another form of the ApoE gene, e2, which appears to lower blood cholesterol and therefore probably protects against developing atherosclerosis. Is this a longevity gene? It depends on the environment. Where people eat a lot of fat and don’t exercise, it may well be a longevity gene. In fact, French centenarians are about twice as likely to have this gene as the French population as a whole. But in other environments, the gene may well have little or no effect.

What these examples suggest, besides the difficulty in defining genes with respect to longevity, is that unless we understand how a particular gene is influenced by a particular environment, it will be difficult to translate the effects of genes from animals to humans. This is why most gerontologists are hesitant to claim too much about the relevance to humans of genes now being found with increasing frequency in simple organisms such as fungi and worms that seem to slow aging dramatically. It is difficult to draw parallels between human and worm and fungal environments. (p-41-43)

It is important to keep this point in mind when one considers the pro- and cons of a popular diet. For example, the Paleo Diet has become increasingly popular in the life extension & transhumanist communities. But if the observations of Austad are correct, a diet high in (saturated) fat could have adverse consequences for carriers of one or two copies of the ApoE4 gene. In fact, in her book The Perfect Gene Diet Pamela McDonald steers ApoE4 carriers in the direction of a vegetarian / vegan diet. As we learn more about the ideal diet for carriers of the ApoE4 gene, further refinements may be expected.

Another interesting emerging finding about ApoE4 is that its effect on having a higher probability of developing late-onset Alzheimer’s disease may be dependent on gender. A number of preliminary studies have found that the risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease for males with just one copy of the ApoE4 gene may not be much different from that of individuals who carry the more common ApoE3 gene:

Together with the previous meta-analysis, the data support the idea that a man with one E4 allele may not have much more risk of AD than an E3 homozygote, Greicius said, but added, “If you have two copies of the E4 allele, whether you are a man or a woman, there is no question that your risk leaps tremendously.” He is analyzing older datasets to see if the interaction between gender and ApoE genotype holds, and is also looking for genes that act synergistically with ApoE in women but not men.

If there is anything that is becoming clear from such studies it is that it will be increasingly inadequate to make sweeping statements about lifestyle, diet, and longevity without taking into account ethnicity, gender, age, genotype, and environment of a person. This does not mean that all general recommendations should be discarded. For example, there could be good reasons to believe that a low calorie diet and (moderate) exercise benefit most people. But when it is comes to the nitty gritty of what to eat and how to exercise a more personalized approach is warranted.

21. June 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Cryonics, Science

From June 3 to 6, 2012 I attended the annual Society for Cryobiology meeting, which in 2012 was held in Rosario,Argentina.

Attending with Argentine biogerontologist and Cryonics Institute Member Rudy Goya may have reduced the interaction I had with the cryobiologists. There were fewer sessions than usual, and thus more free time. The welcome reception was not held until the evening of the first day of the sessions.

The first session dealt with an aspect of Argentine cultural heritage, the Llullaillaco children — three Inca children who had been mummified by dehydration high on a volcano and preserved for over 500 years. Two of children were selected by the Incas because they were “perfect” (beautiful and pure) at 6 or 7 years of age. It was believe to be an honor to go directly to heaven, not really death or sacrifice. The children were given an intoxicant and buried alive atop the Llullaillaco volcano. Much of the session focused on the conditions that caused the children to be so well-preserved, and the conditions the curators should use to preserve the children for the future — involving careful regulation of temperature, atmosphere, humidity, and an environment inhospitable to most microbes.

If reanimated cryonicists receive anything like the care these children are receiving, there should be no concerns about being welcome in the future. In a sense, the Incas had it right when thinking they were sending the children to heaven. Of course the Inca children were deprived of life and are unable to experience or enjoy their treatment by modern curators — and cryonicists should not encourage hastening death based on reliance on unproven future technologies.

At this conference there were special “How to do it?” sessions overlapping part of the lunch hour that focused on practical techniques unrelated to the experimental results and theoretical considerations covered in the regular sessions. Sunday’s topic was proteomic analysis, which covered removal, isolation, and identification of proteins from cells. The presenter (from the Institute of Molecular Cell Biology in Rosario) claimed that instrumentation allowing high throughput and resolution had given proteomics a maturity comparable to genomics.

The afternoon sessions were concerned with cell and tissue preservation. Elza Cabrita reported on improved cryopreservation of fish sperm through a combination of cryoprotectants and antioxidants. Locksley McGann reported on experiments sequentially exposing human articular cartilage to four CPAs (DMSO, glycerol, propylene glycol, and ethylene glycol) at lowering temperature (0ºC, −10ºC, −15ºC). Vitrified samples were cooled to liquid nitrogen temperature, and demonstrated 75% cell recovery when rewarmed.

Adam Higgins reported on an improved procedure for washing glycerol from red blood cells. Currently about 99% of banked blood is stored at refrigerator temperature (2-4ºC), with a shelf life of 42 days. Only 1% of blood (mostly rare blood types) is cryopreserved with glycerol and stored at −80ºC, with a shelf life of ten years. A major deterrent preventing more blood from being banked at −80ºC is the 30-60 minute glycerol washout procedure. Adam’s group developed a procedure that can wash the glycerol out in 30 seconds, but 5 seconds longer or shorter results in too much hemolysis. A three minute washout procedure is less time sensitive (one minute longer or shorter is tolerable), but the method needs to be scaled-up from the 0.5 milliliter test volumes being used.

On Monday, Peter Mazur reported that in vitrifying mouse oocytes, it is the warming rate and not the cooling rate that is most critical for success. He spoke of microwave warming and the problem of thermal runaway (uneven warming). Ice blockers would not cross cell membranes, and thus would not be of use against intracellular ice formation. Pier Morin reported on miRNA microarray assessment of miRNA expression of the freeze-tolerant insect goldenrod gall fly at control (+5ºC) and freezing (−15ºC) temperatures. mIR-210 was down-regulated and mIR-1 was up-regulated at freezing temperature (the latter is involved in cell cycle regulation).

Ali Eroglu reported on epigenetic perturbation resulting from human oocyte cryopreservation techniques. Both the slow freezing and vitrification methods he used resulted in down-regulated expression of H19 and Ube3a genes. Igf2r was down-regulated by vitrification, but not by slow freezing.

Monday’s “How to do it?” session described a combination of nanotechnology and stem cells for tissue engineering. Specifically, electrospinning can be used to create a nanometer scale web of biodegradable fibers that can be populated with mesenchymal stem cells by electrospraying. The main challenge is vascularization of the tissue. Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF) increases cell adhesion, but not necessarily vascularization.

Barry Fuller reported on successful hypothermic perfusion of liver. A kidney hypothermic perfusion machine has been in operation for ten years, but liver has been more challenging, because of its large size and the fact that two vessels supply the organ (hepatic artery and portal vein). The liver hypothermia perfusion machine uses two pumps.

PhD student Na Guan described her study of gene expression changes associated with chilling injury of rat liver slices. Cryoprotectant solutions supplied by 21CM (Greg Fahy) were used to ensure no ice formation interfered with the process. ATP levels indicated that the cryoprotectant solutions used were causing no damage, although the composition of those solutions was not disclosed. 1108 genes were observed, of which 251 were up-regulated and 77 were down-regulated by chilling at −15ºC. Focusing on the top ten up- and down-regulated genes: inflammatory and DNA repair genes were considerably up-regulated, and genes associated with biosynthesis of cholesterol and polyunsaturated fatty acids were down-regulated. The latter seems paradoxical in light of the up-regulation of cell surface-linked signaling pathways, which indicate cell membrane injury.

During the question period, both Andreas Sputtek and Arthur Rowe were sharply critical of the undisclosed composition of the 21CM cryoprotectant solutions being used. Sputtek said that because science is about disclosure of methods and materials, Guan’s work was not science. Guan said she had begged 21CM for disclosure, but said she was told that anyone wanting to replicate the experiments could buy the solutions from 21CM. Tiantian Zhang said that gene analysis only done 30 minutes after chilling injury does not give the whole picture. She said that in her own work doing gene analysis of fish oocytes or embryoes after chilling injury, gene expression changes dramatically with time — that it is a mistake to only analyze the expression 30 minutes after exposure as Guan had done. After the presentation, Arthur Rowe spoke with Guan telling her how much trouble he has had over the years with her collaborator (Dr. Fahy) in connection with the non-disclosure issue. I spoke with Guan myself after her presentation. She told me that the greatest chilling injury occurs at −90ºC. She also said that she would be getting her PhD in July and did not know who would be continuing her work. When I spoke to Dr. Fahy about the presentation, he told me that the composition of the vitrification solution had been disclosed and that Guan was mistaken in believing that she could not disclose the composition.

Tuesday morning had been scheduled to begin with a lecture by Ken Storey. Storey typically has no interest in what other cryobiologists have to say, is fairly ignorant of areas of cryobiology outside of hibernation and effects of low temperature on animals in nature, and only comes for his own presentation before leaving. His ignorance is on display when journalists get him to do cryonics-bashing, which he does with relish, but the general public only sees the comments of a respected cryobiologist, not the ignorant misunderstandings of cryobiology. I would not have expected Storey to come all the way to Rosario, Argentina only for his own presentation, but this is what he attempted to do — and he missed one of his flight connections. Ironically, this year Storey was honored by being made a Fellow in the Society for Cryobiology. Storey does, admittedly, have a fabulous knowledge of molecular biology, and is an outstanding scientist in connection with his own work.

To compensate for Storey’s absence the conference organizers arranged a makeshift follow-up session on the Llullaillaco children. This wasn’t entirely a waste, because many issues had not been addressed in the first round. I was going to question using a 2% oxygen and 98% nitrogen atmosphere for the children rather than pure nitrogen, but Barry Fuller raised this objection before I was called upon. I did, nonetheless, suggest that the goal should be to perfect the preservation environment rather than try to recreate the conditions of the mountain. Even this had not been done because the relative humidity had been raised to 70% on the bad advice of an expert rather than held to the 40% present on the volcano. The children were reportedly gaining 300 grams per year, probably from the humidity. There is a lower humidity limit below which no microorganisms can grow, but 0% relative humidity in the −20ºC preservation chambers would run the risk of freeze-drying.

For the second session on Tuesday, John Crowe had been scheduled to lead a symposium composed of 3 other speakers besides himself, but all of the other 3 speakers cancelled-out. John, nonetheless, did an excellent job of speaking for the whole session on the basis of his own work. John is an expert in dehydration and freeze-drying of organisms as well as on tardigrades and trehalose. Drying DNA with trehalose prevents fragmentation, and drying proteins with trehalose prevents denaturation. John discovered that drying liposomes with trehalose prevents membrane fusion — although he lost most of the patent rights on commercially valuable processes by publishing too soon. Dehydration of samples containing sucrose drives the glass transition temperature (Tg) from 20ºC to 60ºC, but dehydration of samples containing trehalose raises the Tg from 20ºC to 120ºC. More recently, however, it has been found that LEA proteins can be as protective as trehalose, but in a way that is distinctive and complementary to trehalose — stopping liposome fusion, preventing protein aggregation, and changing sample Tg. Yeast cells are protected against dehydration damage not only by trehalose, but by the trehalose transporter protein which exports the trehalose to the exterior membrane surface and imports the trehalose to the internal membranes of organelles such as mitochondria. But although the genome of tardigrades has been sequenced, the tardigrade trehalose transporter has not yet been identified.

Barbara Reed is probably the world’s foremost expert on plant cryopreservation, and she has spoken a lot about the benefits of antioxidants for cryoprotection. But the presentation Barbara gave on Wednesday gave me the strongest indication that oxidative stress could be a significant mechanism of cryoprotectant toxicity. Not only because a variety of cryopreserved plants show improved viability with Vitamin E, Vitamin C (if iron is removed), lipoic acid, glutathione, and melatonin — but because oxidative damage was shown to increase significantly associated with cryoprotectant loading.

Roland Fleck works with the UK Stem Cell Bank. The Bank conducted studies indicating that a 2-step freezing protocol results in better viability than vitrification. But examining the results of 8 technicians showed that in the hands of the most experienced technician vitrification was as effective as the 2-step freezing protocol. Protocols should not be so highly dependent upon technician expertise. After his presentation, Roland told me he was concerned that he was only able to assay viability by the use of trypan blue, which only indicates membrane integrity and does not provide a very fine measure of cell function. He said that the requirement to use the trypan blue viability assay was imposed by bureaucrats or scientists who do not have much knowledge of cryobiology.

Igor Katkov said that he believes any sperm cell can be vitrified simply by choosing the right cooling and warming rate. He said he was advised by his patent attorney to drop seven slides from his PowerPoint presentation.

At the business meeting the Society membership was reported to be down to 186. The journal CRYOBIOLOGY continues to be profitable. CRYOBIOLOGY has a 33% rejection rate, a 1.83 impact factor, and 33 Members on the Editorial Board. The Society has $300,000, which the IRS thinks is too much for a charitable organization, but the IRS is allowing the society to retain tax-exempt status. Increasing travel awards is the preferred use of money, but there is a problem that on the one hand travel awards are a taxable benefit, and on the other hand it is illegal to pay the taxes on travel awards. The 2013 conference (the 50th annual conference) is to be held in Washington, DC, where the first conferences were held. The 2014 conference might be Istanbul, Turkey and the 2015 conference could be in Isreal, but definite decisions have not been made.

Last year’s new Society for Cryobiology Fellows Barbara Reed and John Crowe each gave presentations reviewing their careers. Barbara Reed began as a plant biologist in 1985, but was brought into the field of cryobiology by a need to preserve germ tissue. John Crowe said that after the Sputnik shock of 1957 the US government sought to encourage more young people to go into science, including him. As a teenager, John was sent to a number of different science laboratories on his summer vacations. John considers himself more of a “dryobiologist” than a cryobiologist. He entertained us with photos taken in the many exotic countries he and and his wife have visited since his retirement.

The two new Fellows for 2013 are Ken Storey and Mehmet Toner.

This conference was attended by not more than about 80 people, at least half of whom were South America. There were maybe 30 or so hard-core Society for Cryobiology Members. This was my 9th annual meeting in a row, but for the most part I made little effort to relate to the cryobiologists, although one of my intentions in attending these meetings has been to soften the hostility of cryobiologists to cryonicists. I sat near the front of the meetings with Rudy who told me that he learned a great deal about the cryobiology behind cryonics practices by attending this conference. Very many of the cryobiologists were reporting on using vitrification at this conference, and including articular cartilage and plant tissue as well as single cells. I was fairly active in my questioning and comments — about which a few of the cryobiologists complimented me.

I lost my sense of urgency about talking to Peter Mazur. Peter recently told a journalist that although it is not possible to prove that the chance of cryonics patients being reanimated are zero, “you can, I think demonstrated that the probability of its being done is so extremely low that effectively it is zero”  [CANADIAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION JOURNAL; Monette, M; The Church of Cryopreservation; 184(7):749 (2012)] I am curious about the demonstration Peter has in mind, but I am also committed to learning from cryobiologists rather than arguing with them about cryonics. Peter walked away a few years ago when I asked him when solution effects rather than mechanical damage cause injury to cells due to slow cooling, so that may be a touchy subject with Peter as well.

I did, however, pepper John Crowe with questions — finding him to be friendly and informative. John confirmed what Peter Mazur had told me about cells being able to tolerate the loss of all osmotic water (freezable water, which constitutes at least 80% of cell water) without injury — a matter of great relevance in the vitrification of cryonics patients (assuming inter-cellular effects are not of great significance).

I sought-out Ali Eroglu, with whom I have had little interaction in the past, calling his attention to an article in the most recent issue of CRYOBIOLOGY about transfection of mammalian ovary cells with trehalose [CRYOBIOLOGY; Chakraborty,N; 64(2):91-96 (2012)]. Ali has microinjected oocytes with trehalose (along with low concentrations of DMSO to protect the mitochondria) [BIOLOGY OF REPRODUCTION; Eroglu,A; 80(1):70-78 (2009)]. Ali had not seen the CRYOBIOLOGY article, but he told me that ovarian tissue is easier to work with than oocytes.

At the final banquet I sat next to one of the conference organizers. He told me that John G Baust had been supposed to conduct a symposium, but had cancelled the whole thing a month before the conference without giving any explanation. He agreed with the comments I had made about the Llullaillaco children, and told me that a committee of cryobiologists was going to supplement the questionable advice that the Argentine government has been getting from a single advisor in New York. He told me that National Geographic had discovered the children and attempted to remove them from Argentina on a midnight flight, but the Argentine government got wind of the plan and intervened. Nonetheless, the children were simply kept in −20ºC freezers for several years while planning and building better preservation chambers.

The return bus trip to BA on Thursday took the entire afternoon — much longer than I would have expected. I sat next to Adam Higgins on the bus, and spoke with him much of the time, mostly about his life and work, as well as about our experiences in Argentina. Adam knew Spanish fairly well because he has spent four months of language immersion living in Equador (and visiting the Galapagos Islands). If he gets a patent for deglycerolizing blood, the University would get half the royalties and he would split his half with his collaborators. The advantages of his method would be the ten year rather than 42-day shelf life for banked blood, and the greatly reduced washout time. The latter is a significant savings in labor costs, but would have to be weighed against greater electrical costs for a −80ºC freezer as opposed to refrigeration. Even if he is successful in perfecting his methods, he thinks that the blood banking industry is too conservative to be captivated by superior storage methods. Adam has attended most of the annual conferences since I began attending in 2004, and told me that he would like to become a Governor of the Society. Not once did Adam ask me what work I do, and he evidently does not know because he was surprised when I told him I am not a Member of the Society for Cryobiology. Whether or not I am formally accepted as a Member, my attendance at these conferences is implanting me into the consciousness of the cryobiologists as being a member of their community.