The cryonics company Suspended Animation “will sponsor the conference, “Suspended Animation – The Company and The Goal,” which will be held in Fort Lauderdale in May, 2011. The conference will feature speakers on the latest strategies and advances toward perfecting reversible human suspended animation. During the conference, SA will also host tours and demonstrations at its facility in Boynton Beach.”

More information about the program, registration, and the free live webcast can be found on the Suspended Animation 2011 conference page.

From the conference brochure:

“The Whole-Body Vitrification Project – Greg Fahy, PhD — 21st Century Medicine, Inc. Major new findings from Phase I of a revolutionary longterm project to achieve reversible whole-body solid state suspended animation in humans. This project, conducted at 21st Century Medicine, is the only whole body vitrification research being conducted in mammals and was funded entirely by a $5.6 million dollar grant from the Life Extension Foundation. Cryobiologist Greg Fahy will discuss how well whole animals can be cryopreserved right now, the possibility of using a single advanced vitrification solution to cryopreserve entire animals and, eventually, humans, and a unique, newly-invented technology to produce large, cryopreserved tissue slices for scanning and transmission electron microscopy. A proposal and budget for Phase II of the Whole-Body Vitrification Project will also be presented.”

In the March 2010 issue of Reason magazine Tim Cavanaugh writes about the rift between transhumanists who favor biological enhancement versus those who favor non-biological “mechanical” enhancement:

These days transhumanists talk a lot about subcutaneous data ports, permanent immersion in virtual reality, even extending male life spans by removing the gonads. But they spend noticeably little time considering enhancement through inheritable, rather than mechanical, means. “I don’t know why biological stuff is off the plate,” says Greg Fahy, chief scientific officer at Twenty-First Century Medicine Inc. “It’s just not the flavor of the day.”

There are distinct similarities between those who believe that biology is “messy”, “chaotic” and “dumb” and those who advocate centralization and top-down solutions to solve social problems.  In both cases, evolution, competition and spontaneous order are perceived as leading to “sup-optimal” or “unfair” outcomes that can and should be improved upon  through uniform decision making by intelligent decision makers.  Skeptics of such grandiose views point out that a society with distributed knowledge and incentives requires decentralized decision making. And, as Anthony de Jasay has noted:

When a social state of affairs, instead of being collectively decided, is left to emerge from a large number of individual decisions, the effects of the latter tend to be normally distributed: a few prove disastrous, a few are superbly good, and most are middling. The likelihood of the resulting state of affairs being totally disastrous or wholly superb is negligible. When, however, one collective choice is responsible for a state of affairs, no normal distribution can be relied upon. A single wrong decision that “seemed a good idea at the time” suffices to cause disaster.

Can we predict a-priori what enhancements will be beneficial and which will be harmful to an individual? In many cases, the most  useful arbiter will be experience, or to those of a more prudent temperament, the observation of others. Tim Cavanaugh writes:

There is grandeur in the view that genetic enhancement will produce outcomes that can’t be modeled by Bayesian optimization. Better machines and longevity treatments have the attention of the human enhancement community now, but the real fun, and the real mystery, will be found in creating varieties of people, who in turn will have concerns and beliefs and bodies that differ radically from our own. Will all those differences be attractive or adaptive? The beauty of evolution is that we can’t know the end—but we can get more skillful in crafting our part of the beginning.

Even if mankind would be able to improve upon the “chaos” of existing biology, this would in no way mean the end of evolution and competition. Things evolve and evolution will still remain a useful tool to model the interaction of various ideas and systems. One application of particular interest is to use evolution to discover strategies to eliminate or slow down aging, as practiced by biological researchers such as Michael R. Rose.

Unfortunately, Cavanaugh mentions cryonics (“frozen brains”) as as a subdivision of transhumanism. There are an increasing number of  influential cryonicists who strongly object to this identification of cryonics with transhumanism. They see cryonics as an experimental medical procedure that, like any other medical procedure, should not be linked to any kind of “ism.”

This past weekend Motel X, the Lisbon (Portugal) International Horror festival, had its third anniversary. It is one of the smaller international horror festivals around, but this year they managed to have both Stuart Gordon, director of several Lovecraft adaptions, and John Landis, director of the horror classic An American Werewolf in London, as special guests to provide introductions to their movies and give guest lectures.

Stuart Gordon is perhaps best known for his adaption of H.P. Lovecraft’s Re-Animator, also subject of  an earlier Depressed Metabolism post called H.P. Lovecraft and the science of resuscitation. Although it is one of his earliest movies, the festival did show Re-animator as part of a limited retrospective on Gordon’s work.

Re-animator is about Herbert West’s search to restore life to the dead. When Gordon introduced his movie, he mentioned that the movie is based on a true story, referring to actual research that is being carried out to resuscitate the dead. To a person familiar with cryonics, or even mainstream medical procedures such as hypothermic circulatory arrest, this is not such a strange concept but, surprisingly, the audience started laughing. Even when Gordon insisted on the subject, the audience continued with laughter.

This does show that even people that watch horror and science fiction movies, and the often forward-looking concepts portrayed in them, have a hard time imagining that these ideas are legitimate areas of scientific investigation and that resuscitation of “dead” people  may become reality in the future. This response highlights the struggle cryonicists face to make cryonics more accepted in society.

Two peer-reviewed articles relevant to cryonics:

Yuri Pichugin, Gregory M. Fahy, Robert Morin:  Cryopreservation of rat hippocampal slices by vitrification (PDF)

Benjamin P. Best: Scientific Justification for Cryonics Procedures (PDF)

See also Alcor’s Frequently Asked Questions for Scientists.

Basile J. Luyet (1897-1974) can be considered the father of modern cryobiology. His book “Life and Death at Low Temperatures” is a classic in the field and his journal “Biodynamica” evolved into a publication solely dedicated to the study of low temperature biology. Luyet identified the possibility of solidification without crystallization at low temperatures (vitrification) of biological materials, an approach that was later worked out as a practical method for organ preservation by the cryobiologist Greg Fahy.  Vitrification solutions are also used in human cryopreservation to prevent ice formation in patients during cooldown and storage at liquid nitrogen temperature.

In the following Biodynamica study (1966) Luyet investigates the issue of structural instability and molecular mobility in solidified aqueous solutions. In these initial investigations he anticipated the phenomena of re-crystallization and de-vitrification upon rewarming, which later would present formidable challenges during the early years of applied vitrification research in large organs. Although Luyet briefly mentions the possibility of molecular mobility as such at temperatures down to absolute zero, his main focus is on ice formation that can occur during the rewarming of solutions. Cryonics Institute President Ben Best has done some theoretical explorations into the issue of molecular mobility at low temperature, a topic that raises important questions about the desirability of intermediate temperature storage (ITS) of cryonics patients.

B. Luyet – The Problem of Structural Instability and Molecular Mobility in Aqueous Solutions “Solidified” at Low Temperatures (1966) PDF

17. September 2008 · Comments Off · Categories: Cryonics · Tags: , ,

In an abstract in Cryobiology 55 (2007), 21st Century Medicine researcher Greg Fahy reports on the biological (pharmacological or “cryopharmacological”) effects of vitrification solutions. He identifies four different mechanisms of toxicity:

1. “Specific toxicity,” or the effects of vitrification agents on well-defined biological pathways or sites.

2. Adverse effects on the hydration of biomolecules as a result of water-cryoprotectant interactions.

3. Protein denaturation by methylated cryoprotectants (such as N-methylformamide), or the vitrification solutions that include them.

4. Chemical reactions between DMSO and cellular sulfhydryl groups.

These investigations into the chemical and physical mechanisms of cryoprotectant toxicity may contribute to improved vitrification solutions that inhibit ice formation and maintain viability of complex organs.