Introduction

Cryoprotectant toxicity should be distinguished from other mechanisms of cryopreservation injury such as chilling injury (injury produced by too low temperatures as such) and cold shock  (injury produced by rapid cooling). Cryoprotectant toxicity itself can again be divided into general cryoprotectant toxicity and specific cryoprotectant toxicity. General cryoprotectant toxicity involves concentration (water substitution) effects of cryoprotectants and specific cryoprotectant toxicity involves the effects of individual compounds on cellular viability. General cryoprotectant toxicity presents a formidable obstacle for cryopreservation methods that require very high concentrations of cryoprotectant agents (such as vitrification).

Another mechanism of injury that is rarely discussed in the cryobiology literature but that can complicate cryopreservation of complex organs is “non-specific” dehydration injury. In light of the fact that the current generation of vitrification agents are delivered in hypertonic carrier solutions and contain non-penatrating cryoprotective agents which do not cross the blood brain barrier, this form of damage may be especially important in cryopreservation of the brain.

Systemic reviews of cryoprotectant toxicity are rare but some mechanisms for (specific) cryoprotectant toxicity have been proposed including, but not limited to, protein denaturation, modification of biomolecules, membrane injury, destabilization of the cytoskeleton, oxidative damage, and ATP depletion. It is important to stress that some of the mechanisms may be downstream effects of other mechanisms. For example, ATP depletion can cause oxidative damage. And as Gregory Fahy has pointed out, cryoprotectant toxicity should be distinguished from injury associated with the method of introduction and washout of the cryoprotectant. In 2004, Fahy, Wowk et al., proposed a compositional variable to predict general cryoprotectant toxicity.

Cryoprotectant toxicity can also vary by species and organ type. Cryoprotectants that are moderately toxic in one species can be highly toxic in others. Similarly, cryoprotectants that are moderately toxic in one organ can be highly toxic in others (or even between different types of cells within organs). This raises the question of whether universal non-toxic cryoprotective agents are attainable (a requirement for reversible vitrification in complex organisms).

Cryoprotectant toxicty can be investigated by cryopreserving an organ (or cell) and measuring its viability after rewarming and washout of the cryoprotective agent. To eliminate the influence of other mechanisms of injury associated with cryopreservation (such as ice formation), a cell can just be loaded and unloaded with the cryoprotectant without cryopreservation. The effects of hypothermia on viability can be eliminated altogether by normothermic perfusion of the organ. This, of course,  introduces a challenge for hypoxia sensitive organs such as the heart and the brain because cryoprotective agents may not be good oxygen carriers.

Papers

Baxter SJ, Lathe GH (1971). Biochemical effects of kidney of exposure to high concentrations of dimethyl sulphoxide.
Biochemical Pharmacology. Jun; 20(6): 1079-91.

Baxter and Lathe investigated the effect of high concentrations of DMSO on kidney preparations. In a series of illuminating experiments, the investigators established that anaerobic glycolysis was reduced in slices and homogenates as a result of increased activation of the gluconeogenesis enzyme Fructose 1,6-diphosphatase (FDPase). DMSO-induced activation of FDPase can be inhibited by adding an amide or lysine to DMSO. The finding that a combination of DMSO and an amide allows for less toxic cryoprotectants formed the basis of subsequent investigations of GM Fahy for potent vitrification solutions.

Fahy GM (1983). Cryoprotectant Toxicity Neutralizers Reduce Freezing Damage.
Cryo-Letters 4: 309-314.

In this paper GM Fahy reports the ability of toxicity neutralizers urea, formamide, and acetamide (all amides) to reduce injury of cryopreserved renal cortical slices with DMSO. In later research papers Fahy will establish that DMSO neutralizes the toxicity of formamide, and not the other way around.

Fahy GM (1984). Cryoprotectant toxicity: biochemical or osmotic?
Cryo-Letters 5: 79-90.

If osmotic stress is an important cause of injury during introduction and removal of cryoprotectant agents, improved viability can be obtained by reducing the rate of cryoprotective agent introduction and removal. Fahy reviews the literature and presents data obtained in renal cortical slices that indicate that substantial hypertonic osmotic stress does not produce major changes in viability. Conversely, reducing exposure time to higher concentrations of the cryoprotectant can contribute to improved viability. These results suggest that biochemical toxicity, not osmotic stress, is the major factor in cryoprotectant-induced injury.

Fahy GM (1984). Cryoprotectant toxicity: specific or non-specific?
Cryo-Letters 5: 287-294

Fahy reviews the argument (Morris, Cryoletters 4, 339-340, 1983) that the lower toxity of cryoprotectant solutions that contain DMSO and amides can be entirely explained by the lower absolute concentration of DMSO. Fahy points out that the original Bexter and Lathe experiments demonstrated that solutions with the same absolute amount of DMSO (4.6 M) but with or without amides had different effects on glucose utilization. The author also presents data showing that “simple substitution (“dilution”) of one agent for another strikingly fails to reduce overall toxicity over a very critical range of DMSO concentration.” Also briefly discussed is the possibility of mutual toxicity neutralization between DMSO and amides, a topic that would be further explored by Fahy in future research.

Fahy GM, MacFarlane DR, Angell CA, Meryman HT (1984). Vitrification as an approach to cryopreservation.
Cryobiology.  Aug ; 21(4): 407-26.

In this paper on vitrification as an alternative to conventional cryoprotection, Fahy et al., list a number of methods for reducing cryoprotectant toxicity:

Primary (direct) methods:

  1. Maintain temperature as low as possible;
  2. Select an appropriate carrier solution;
  3. Keep exposure time at higher concentrations to a minimum;
  4. When possible, employ specific cryoprotectant toxicity neutralizers.

Secondary (indirect) methods:

  1. Avoid osmotic injury;
  2. Mutual dilution of cryoprotectants may be helpful in some instances;
  3. Use extracellular cryoprotectant to reduce exposure to intracellular cryoprotectant when possible.

The most important insights, some of which are still maintained in the current generation of vitrification solutions, concern toxicity neutralization, the choice of an appropriate carrier solution, and the use of extracellular cryoprotectants.

Fahy GM (1986). The relevance of cryoprotectant “toxicity” to cryobiology.
Cryobiology. Feb; 23(1) :1-13.

Fahy presents evidence that cryoprotectants themselves can present a source of injury. As a consequence, the advantages of higher concentrations of the cryoprotective agents does not necessarily produce higher viability after freezing, even when this allows for greater ice inhibition. He reviews data on “cryoprotectant-associated freezing injury” for DMSO, ethylene glycol, methanol, ethanol, and glycerol.  Because vitrification requires very high concentrations of cryoprotective agents, toxicity is the key limiting factor in reversible vitrification of organs.

Fahy GM, Lilley TH, Linsdell H, Douglas MS, Meryman HT (1990). Cryoprotectant toxicity and cryoprotectant toxicity reduction: in search of molecular mechanisms.
Cryobiology. Jun; 27(3): 247-68.

Fah,y et al., delineate 6 criteria that must all be met simultaneously in order for a putative mechanism of cryoprotectant toxicity to be implicated:

  1. The relationship between observed biochemical alteration and cellular viability must be clear or easily plausible;
  2. The maginitude of the cryoprotectant effect must be large enough to be significant;
  3. The effect must be irreversible over a reasonable time span after removal of the cryoprotectant;
  4. The time course of the observed effect must be consistent with the time course of observed injury;
  5. The cryoprotectant effect must be possible under conditions that could reasonably be encountered inside a living cell being prepared for freezing or being subjected to freezing and thawing itself;
  6. The cryoprotectant effect must be due to the cryoprotectant itself and not due to the technique of introduction and washout.

The authors investigate the proposed mechanisms for the biochemical effects of DMSO toxicity in the 1971 Baxter study and find that a) the effect of DMSO on FDPase activation is too small to affect the normal respiration of the cell and therefore fails to meet criterion 2 to be a significant mechanism of cryoprotectant toxicity; b) the presence of formamide does not affect the interaction between DMSO and lysine; and c) toxicity is not consistently reduced by blocking alteration of FDPase rather than substituting those compounds for DMSO.

The authors further present results that do not support the theory that generalized  protein denaturation is related to cryoprotectant toxicity.  The article ends with a referenced list of phenomena possibly related to mechanisms of cryoprotectant toxicity.

Fahy GM, da Mouta C, Tsonev L, Khirabadi BS, Mehl P,  Meryman HT (1995). Cellular injury associated with organ cryopreservation: Chemical toxicity and cooling injury.
Editors: John J. Lemasters, Constance Oliver. Cell Biology of Trauma, CRC Press

Fahy, et al., review different mechanisms of cryoprotectant toxicity with a particular focus on DMSO-medicated chemical injury. Mechanisms discussed include fructose-1,6-bisphosphatase activation, sulfhydryl oxidation, activation of extracellular proteinases and endothelial cell detachment and death. The article lists a number of interventions that do not change CPA-medicated injury such as inhibition calcium mediated injury or protein denaturation. The authors also report how the toxicity of formamide can be completely reversed by addition of DMSO.

Bakaltcheva IB,  Odeyale CO, Spargo BJ (1996). Effects of alkanols, alkanediols and glycerol on red blood cell shape and hemolysis.
Biochimica et Biophysica Acta. 1280: 73-80

In this elegant and thoughtful paper, the authors use the human red blood cell to study cryoprotectant toxicity. Morphological observations, quantification of hemolysis, measurements of the dielectric constant of the incubation medium (Ds) and the dielectric constant of the erythrocyte membrane in the presence of organic solutes (Dm), are used to investigate cryoprotectant toxicity in a series of alkanols, alkanediols, and glycerol. The authors propose that toxicity of a cryoprotectant is related to its ability to change the ratio of Ds/Dm. Changes in this ratio reflect changes in the difference between hydrophobicity of the solution and the membrane, with decreases in this ratio leading to increased exposure of membrane surface area and vesiculation, and increases in this ratio leading to decreased exposure of membrane surface area and cell fusion. The authors suggest that the design of less toxic cryoprotective agents should involve the maintenance of dielectric homeostasis of the medium and the membrane. Their findings also throw light on the observation that combinations of various cryoprotectant agents (such as DMSO and formamide) can reduce the overall toxicity of a solution.

Fahy GM, Wowk B, Wu J, Paynter S (2004). Improved vitrification solutions based on the predictability of vitrification solution toxicity.
Cryobiology. Feb; 48(1): 22-35.

This seminal paper on non-specific cryoprotectant toxicity represents a major contribution to the cryobiology literature in general, and enabled the authors to formulate less toxic vitrification solutions for the cryopreservation of whole organs. In the paper the authors propose a new compositional variable that reflects the strength of water-cryoprotectant hydrogen bonding called qv*. Contrary to the cryobiology wisdom to date, the authors found that weaker glass formers favor higher viability. As a consequence, vitrification agents with higher concentrations of cryoprotective agents are not necessarily more toxic. Although qv* is not helpful in predicting specific cryoprotectant toxicity, this paper, and the research that is reflected in it, suggests that non-specific cryoprotectant toxicity is mediated through the effects of penetrating cryoprotectant agents on the hydration of biomolecules.

It has been said that if you want to persuade someone, you need to find common ground. But one of the defining characteristics of cryonics is that proponents and opponents cannot even seem to agree on the criteria that should be employed in discussing cryonics. The cryonics skeptic will argue that the idea of cryonics is dead on arrival because cryonics patients are dead. The response of the cryonics advocate is that death is not a state but a process and there is good reason to believe that a person who is considered dead today may not be considered dead by a future physician. In essence, the cryonics advocate is arguing that his skeptical opponent would agree with him if he would just embrace his conception of death….

Cryonicists have named their favorite conception of death “information-theoretic death.” In a nutshell, a person is said to be dead in the information-theoretic sense of the word if no future technologies are capable of inferring the original state of the brain that encodes the person’s memories and identity. There are a lot of good things to be said about substituting this more rigorous criterion of death for our current definitions of death. However, in this brief paper I will argue that our best response does not necessarily need to depend on skeptics embracing such alternative definitions of death and that we may be able to argue that opponents of cryonics should support legal protection for cryonics patients or risk contradicting conventional definitions of death.

In contemporary medicine, death can be pronounced using two distinct criteria; cardiorespiratory arrest or brain death. A lot of ink has been spilled over the co-existence of those criteria and its bioethical implications but I think that most people would agree that the practice of medicine requires this kind of flexibility. What is interesting for us is that clinical brain death (or brain stem death) is defined as “the stage at which all functions of the brain have permanently and irreversibly ceased.” There are a number of ways how such a diagnosis can be made, but in this context I want to focus on the absence of organized electrical activity in the brain.

We first should note the use of the word “irreversible.” After all, if a patient is cooled down to a low core temperature to permit complicated neurosurgical procedures most of us would not say that this person is “temporarily brain dead.” As a matter of fact, one could argue that cryonics is just an experimental extension of clinical hypothermic circulatory arrest in which there is a temporal separation of stabilization and treatment. Now, we could argue that what may be irreversible by today’s standards may not be irreversible by future standards but then, again, we are trying to persuade the other person to accept our view of future medicine. It would be much better, and I hope much easier, to argue that contemporary cryopreservation techniques can preserve organized electrical activity in the brain. The advantage of this approach is obvious. Instead of arguing in favor of our own criterion of death we can argue that, according to mainstream criteria for determination of death, cryonics patients are not dead. This is an interesting case in which a scientist (i.e., a cryobiologist) may be able to make a major contribution to the legal recognition and protection of cryonics patients.

So where are we standing right now? How good are our preservation techniques? If we aim for reversible whole brain cryopreservation a cryoprotective agent should have two properties: (1) elimination of ice formation, and (2) negligible toxicity. In the early days of cryonics, we were not able to satisfy both criteria at once. Using just a little bit of glycerol would not be toxic but it would still allow massive ice formation. Using a lot of a strong glass former such as DMSO would eliminate ice formation but at the price of severe toxicity. Mostly due to the groundbreaking work of cryobiologists Gregory Fahy and Brian Wowk, in the year 2000 the Alcor Life Extension Foundation introduced a vitrification agent called B2C that eliminated ice formation and had a more favorable toxicity profile. In the year 2005, the separation between the state of the art in experimental cryobiology and cryonics practice was further narrowed when Alcor introduced M22 as their new vitrification agent. M22 is the least toxic vitrification agent in the academic cryobiology literature that permits vitrification of complex mammalian organs at a realistic cooling rate.

M22 and other solutions derived from the same cryobiological principles have been validated in the brain as well. Former Cryonics Institute researcher Yuri Pichugin and collaborators used a related vitrification solution for the preservation of rat hippocampal brain slices without loss of viability after vitrification and rewarming. At a cryonics conference in 2007, 21st Century Medicine announced that the use of M22-based solutions permitted the maintenance of organized electrical activity in rabbit brain slices. So, at this stage we can argue that our existing vitrification solutions have a reasonable chance of maintaining organized electrical activity in brain slices. The next challenge is to demonstrate this property in whole brains.

Whole brain cryopreservation is not just the cryopreservation of a great number of individual brain slices. Brain slices can be cryopreserved by (step-wise) immersion in the vitrification solution. Vitrification of whole brains (even small brains such as rodent brains) requires the introduction of the vitrification solution through the circulatory system. This aspect of whole brain vitrification presents a number of technical challenges. Electron micrographs of vitrified tissue from whole brains, however, indicate that these challenges can be overcome. The current research objective is to perfect perfusion techniques and optimize vitrification solutions to maintain organized electrical activity in whole brains. We know that this objective is possible in principle because the famous surgeon Robert White demonstrated retention of electrical activity in whole isolated brains after cooling them to ~2-3°C. Isolated brain perfusion is a complicated surgical procedure, but the current writer and cryobiologist Brian Wowk have recognized that validation of whole brain activity is also feasible in situ.

Reversible cryopreservation of the whole brain without losing organized electrical activity is not a trivial research objective but it should be easier to achieve than reversible cryopreservation of the whole body and, perhaps, some other organs. If and when we accomplish this, we will no longer be dependent on “rationalist” arguments that appeal to logic and optimism about the future. We can argue that our patients should not be considered dead by the most rigorous criterion for determination of death in current medical practice. We can then even mount some smart legal challenges to seek better protection for cryonics patients. If we can make this step forward we should also aim at improved protection of existing cryonics patients, which will allow them, among other things, to own assets and bank accounts. This is how science can be employed in legal strategies for asset preservation.

This article is a slightly revised version of a paper that accompanied a recent presentation on neural cryobiology and the legal recognition of  cryonics at the 5th Asset Preservation Meeting in Benicia, California.

This book review was originally published in Cryonics magazine, 1st Quarter, 2011.

Editor-in-chief, cryobiologist, and aging researcher Gregory M. Fahy and his associate editors Michael D. West, L. Stephen Cole and Steven B. Harris have compiled what might be the most impressive collection of articles on interventive gerontology to date in their 866 page collection The Future of Aging: Pathways to Human Life Extension. The book is divided into 2 parts. The first part includes general, scientific, social and philosophical perspectives on life extension. The second part is a collection of proposed interventions, which are organized in chronological order, starting with the (projected) earliest interventions first. Of course, such an organization of the materials necessitates a subjective estimation of when such technologies will be available and is bound to be controversial. The collection closes with a number of appendices about contemporary anti-aging funding and projects (SENS, Manhattan Beach Project).

I have read the book with the following two questions in mind:

1.     Which approaches for increasing the maximum life span show clear near-term potential?

2.     Is meaningful rejuvenation possible without advanced cell repair technologies?

What follows are my comments on selected chapters of the book.

I cannot say that I am a big fan of Ray Kurzweil’s work. His general introduction to life extension, “Bridges to Life,” co-written with Terry Grossman, starts out on a restrained note, discussing the benefits of caloric restriction, exercise, basic supplementation, and predictive genomics. But it then ratchets up into bold claims about the future that rest on controversial premises: about biology and health following the same path as information technology; about the technical feasibility of molecular nanotechnology; and about the nature of mind. One thing that remains a mystery to me is how such an accelerating pace of anti-aging technologies could be validated considering the relatively long life expectancy of humans. Presumably we are expected to adopt a lot of these technologies based on their theoretical merits, success in animal studies, or short-term effects in humans.

Associate Editor Stephen Cole contributes a chapter on the ethical basis for using human embryonic stem cells. I suspect that his argument in favor of these therapies relies on adopting a definition of personhood that has more far-reaching, and more controversial, consequences than just permitting the use of human embryonic stem cells. One of the most disconcerting aspects of the bioethical debate on stem cell research is that many of its advocates seem to feel that if they do not see an ethical case against it, government funding for such research should be permitted.  In essence, this means that opponents of embryonic stem cell research are obliged to financially support it as well. This is a recipe for further aggravating what has already become a passionate political debate.

As someone with relatively limited exposure to the biogerontology literature I should be cautious in singling out one technical contribution for high praise, but Joshua Mitteldorf’s chapter on the evolutionary origins of aging is one of the best and most inspiring articles in the field of aging research I have read and worth the hefty price of the book alone. Mitteldorf outlines a case for the theory that evolution has selected aging for its own sake and presents experimental findings that falsify other explanations for aging such as wear-and-tear and metabolic trade-offs. That aging is firmly under genetic control may appear the most pessimistic finding in terms of the prospects of halting aging but in fact allows for the manipulation of a number of selected upstream interventions that can inhibit or mitigate these programs.

It is clear from this ambitious book that cryobiologist Greg Fahy also has a strong interest in biogerontology but nothing prepared me for the encyclopedic knowledge that he displays in his lengthy chapter on the precedents for the biological control of aging. Fahy’s chapter further corroborates the view that aging is under genetic control. He also reviews a great number of beneficial mutations and interventions in animals and humans that can extend lifespan. Reading all these inspiring examples, however, I found myself faced with the same kind of despair as when reading about all the neuroprotective interventions in stroke and cardiac arrest. There is great uncertainty how such interventions would fare in humans (or other animals) and, more specific to the objective of human life extension, how we ourselves can ascertain that there are no long-term adverse consequences. Fahy does not run away from the most formidable challenge of all, rejuvenation of the brain without losing identity-critical information, but points out that identity-critical information might be retained despite the turnover and replacement of components that a meaningful life extension program for the brain would most likely require. Fortunately, people who make cryonics arrangements can feel a little better about this issue because their survival is not dependent on safe technologies becoming available in their lifetime.

Zheng Sui’s report on using high potency granulocytes to cure cancer in mice is one of the more exciting chapters in the book and a fine example of the role of chance discoveries in biomedical research (Zheng by accident discovered a mouse innately resistant to cancer). With substantial support of the Life Extension Foundation and other private donors, Sui is aggressively pursuing Leukocyte Infusion Therapy (LIFT) human trials instead of pursuing the torturous path of trying to illuminate the biochemical and molecular mechanisms that drive the successful results in mice. I should mention that a unique concern for cryonicists is that eliminating cancer in the absence of other effective anti-aging technologies could increase the likelihood of dying as result of identity-threatening insults such as cardio-vascular complications, ischemic stroke, or Alzheimer’s disease.

I must admit being somewhat disappointed in the chapter about “evolutionary nutrigenomics” by Michael Rose and his collaborators. Michael Rose has always struck me as one of the more level-headed and empirical aging researchers, and his work with fruit flies is a resounding demonstration of using evolutionary tools to investigate and combat aging. His short contribution to this book reads more as a quickly thrown together status update of their company, Genescient, than a rigorous treatment of the issues. Dispersed throughout the text are a number of interesting perspectives on alternative approaches to aging research and the validation of anti-aging interventions, but these issues are not discussed in much detail. Michael Rose’s work is of great interest, but this chapter is neither a good introduction to his work nor an in-depth treatment of the practical applications of his research.

Anthony Atala’s chapter, “Life Extension by Tissue and Organ Replacement,” is a fascinating update on the current status and potential of regenerative medicine and tissue engineering. Unlike most of the chapters in this book, the author reports a number of examples of successful clinical applications. It is a good example of how working with nature (instead of trying to improve upon it) can have meaningful near-term benefits. Unfortunately, there is no discussion of the progress in regenerative medicine for the brain. Obviously, such strategies cannot involve a simple replacement of the brain with a newly grown brain but selected repair technologies can play an important role in brain-damaging diseases and insults. The inclusion of “life extension” in the chapter title seems somewhat artificial to me because there is no distinct treatment about how tissue and organ replacement will be expected to contribute to life extension. Additionally, there is little discussion of contemporary artificial and mechanical alternatives to organs (or biological structural components) in this chapter, or in any other chapters in the book, which I think is a minor oversight.

Robert J. Shmookler Reis and Joan E. McEwen contribute a chapter about identifying genes that can extend longevity. Their discussion of the prospects for mammals includes the sobering observation that “many of the gains we can attain by a single mutation in the simpler organism may already have been incorporated in the course of achieving our present longevities.” Then again, unless aging is firmly under genetic control in simple organisms but the result of wear and tear in humans there should be (unique) approaches in humans that should confer similar benefits as well.

The publication of this book came to my attention when I learned about Robert Freitas’s contribution, “Comprehensive Nanorobotic Control of Human Morbidity (PDF),” so I was quite interested in reading this final chapter of the book. I am not qualified to comment on the technical aspects of his vision of nanotechnology. I think it is fair to say, though, that if resuscitation of cryonics patients is possible they will most likely be resuscitated in a future that has nanomedical capabilities resembling those that are outlined in this chapter. For this reason alone, this chapter should be of great interest to readers of this magazine. Of particular interest is the discussion of cell repair technologies and brain rejuvenation, a topic of great interest to cryonics. Freitas devotes considerable space discussing how anti-aging strategies like SENS can be achieved with medical nanorobots but the chapter falls short of offering a distinct exposition of a nanomedical approach to aging and rejuvenation. With such profound molecular capabilities one would think that such an approach would not just consist of updating existing biotechnological approaches to eliminate aging related damage with more powerful tools. I think that the distinct capabilities that molecular technologies have to offer would have benefitted from a more extensive discussion of their transformative capabilities. In particular, the section on nanorobot-medicated rejuvenation could have benefitted from a more rigorous treatment of the question of how these interventions would produce actual rejuvenation. Rejuvenation will be a practical requirement for most cryonics patients and it would be interesting to see a more detailed technical discussion of this topic.

Robert Freitas introduces the phrase NENS (Nanomedically Engineered Negligible Senescence) for his vision of how the goals of SENS can be achieved through nanomedicine. This raises an important question: is there any reason to believe that the timeline for “conventional” SENS will be different from the timeline for mature molecular medicine? It is hard to tell, but one could argue that the development of mature nanotechnology is more comprehensive than any strategies designed to deal with the causes or effects of the aging process. So why not just fund the work of biological and mechanical molecular nanotechnologists to accelerate meaningful re-design of the human organism? I think that the best answer is that our current state of knowledge does not justify giving a privileged position to any particular approach and having these visions of the future compete may be the best hope that we have for seeing meaningful rejuvenation and the resuscitation of cryonics patients in the future.

If there is one serious omission in this impressive collection of articles it is a more comprehensive chapter on the topic of biomarkers of aging in humans. As reiterated throughout this review, the gold standard and most rigorous determination of the efficacy of anti-aging therapies and interventions is to empirically determine whether they increase maximum human lifespan. For obvious reasons, most medical professionals and healthcare consumers are pressed to make decisions based on less rigorous criteria and the development of a set of reliable biomarkers of aging is highly desirable. Of course, the most rigorous case for successful biomarkers would require the same kind of long-term studies, leading to an infinite regress problem. How to break out of this predicament while retaining a framework to make rational decisions about life extension technologies is not a trivial problem and can be the topic of a whole new volume of articles. Interestingly enough, one of the most insightful perspectives on this issue is given in Appendix A by SENS researcher Michael Rae when he points out that therapies aimed at rejuvenation can be tested at much more rapid timescales than therapies to retard the aging process or increase the maximum lifespan.

Michael Rae also notes that SENS’s “engineering heuristic” is well established in other fields of biomedicine. It is certainly the case that aging research could benefit from a stronger emphasis on solving problems and repairing damage instead of completely trying to understand the underlying pathologies but it also needs to be pointed out that the engineering approach has not fared much better in areas of research that are notoriously resistant to effective solutions such as neuroprotection in stroke. Ultimately, the SENS approach cannot completely escape studying the mechanisms and metabolic pathways involved when treatments are compared and side-effects are studied. In this sense, the difference between SENS and alternative approaches is a matter of degree, not principle.

I think that the editors are justified in claiming that the prospects for solving the aging challenge have never looked better. A close inspection of all the chapters, however, shows that no significant interventions in the aging process in humans are available now, and I doubt they will become available in the near future. And even if the aging process can be eliminated, there will still be medical conditions and accidents that require placing a person in cryostasis until effective treatment is available. For the foreseeable future there is good reason to agree with Thomas Donaldson’s advice* that making cryonics arrangements is the most fundamental and sensible decision one can make in order to reap the benefits of powerful future life extension therapies.

*Thomas Donaldson – Why Cryonics Will Probably Help You More Than Antiaging, Physical Immortality 2(4) 28-29 (4th Q 2004)


M22 represents the culmination of decades of work in applied cryobiology by researchers Gregory Fahy , Brian Wowk, and others to develop a vitrification agent that can recover complex organs (such as the kidney) from cryogenic temperatures without ice formation and minimal toxicity. In 2005, M22 was licensed by the patent holder 21st Century Medicine (21CM) to the Alcor Life Extension Foundation to replace their previous vitrification agent B2C. As a result, the least toxic vitrification agent for complex organs that has been documented in peer review journals is currently being used for cryonics patients at Alcor.

M22 incorporates a number of important discoveries in cryobiology:

1. High concentrations of a cryoprotective agent (or a mixture of different cryoprotective agents) can prevent ice formation during cooldown and warming.

2. The toxicity of some cryoprotectants can be neutralized by combining them with other cryoprotective agents.

3. The general toxicity of a vitrification agent can be predicted by using a measure called qv*, allowing for the rational formulation of less toxic vitrification agents.

4. Within limits, non-penetrating agents can reduce the exposure of cells to toxic amounts of cryoprotectants without reducing vitrification ability.

5. Synthetic “ice blockers” can be included in a vitrification mixture to reduce the concentration of toxic cryoprotective agents necessary to achieve vitrification.

6. Substituting methoxyl (-OCH3) for hydroxyl groups (-OH) in conventional cryoprotective agents can decrease viscosity, increase permeability, and reduce the critical cooling rate necessary to avoid ice formation.

7 Chilling injury can be eliminated by introducing the vitrification agent with a hypertonic concentration of non-penetrating solutes.

8. In cryonics, with a minor proprietary modification, M22 can be used for whole body perfusion without causing severe edema that has been a problem for some other solutions.

Vitrification is the solidification of a liquid without crystallization. When a solution is cooled down to the glass transition point (-123.3°C for M22) the extreme elevation in viscosity will produce a glass in which all translational molecular motions are arrested. Although water vitrifies at cooling rates exceeding a million of degrees Celsius per second, such cooling rates are relaxed when other solutes are substituted for water. In cryobiology solutions with high concentrations of cryoprotective agents can be used to vitrify complex organs such as the kidney or the brain.

Vitrification has a number of clear advantages over conventional cryopreservation. The most important advantage is the elimination of ice formation. Although the adverse effects of ice formation can be mitigated by the use of cryoprotective agents (glycerol, DMSO) and optimization of cooling rates, massive ice formation does not permit recovery of complex organs with full viability. Another advantage is that vitrification eliminates the need to strike a balance between the risk of intracellular freezing induced by fast cooling on the one hand, and cell dehydration and solution concentration induced by slow cooling on the other hand.

The challenge in formulating successful cryoprotective agents is to design vitrification solutions that are non-toxic but allow for vitrification at realistic cooling and warming rates. For more than a decade the least toxic vitrification agent was Greg Fahy’s VS41A, which is an 55% weight/volume equimolar mixture of DMSO and formamide plus propylene glycol. The “1A” in VS41A reflects the solution’s ability to vitrify at normal atmosphere pressure (as opposed to an older, more dilute solution, VS4, which requires 1000 atmospheres of pressures to vitrify). The equimolar concentrations of DMSO and formamide reflect Baxter and Lathe’s research who concluded that amides can neutralize the toxicity of DMSO, a finding that Greg Fahy later revised in favor of the theory that it is actually DMSO that neutralizes the toxicity of formamide. The ability of DMSO to neutralize the toxicity of formamide (up to certain concentrations) allows for the formulation of vitrification agents with reduced toxicity. This finding has been so fundamental that an equimolar concentration of DMSO and formamide remains the core of M22.

Another major step was made when the researchers at 21CM found that high concentration of (penetrating) cryoprotectant agents do not necessarily increase toxicity. Contrary to conventional cryobiology expectations, Fahy et al. found that weaker glass formers favor higher viability. They proposed a new compositional variable called qv* to predict the general toxicity of vitrification solutions. Using qv* they made the “counter-intuitive” decision to substitute a higher concentration of the weaker glass former ethylene glycol for propylene glycol to create a solution called Veg, which produced a substantial improvement in terms of viability as measured by K+/Na+ ratios.

Because cells contain higher concentrations of protein, the intracellular space is more favorable to vitrification than the extracellular space. As a consequence, the concentration of penetrating (toxic) cryoprotectants can be reduced in favor of non-penetrating polymers like polyvinylpyrrolidone (PVP). Variations of Veg in which the concentration of DMSO and formamide was reduced in favor of PVP increased viability without decreasing its ability to suppress ice formation. The concentration of penetrating cryoprotectants can be further reduced by inclusion of non-penetrating “ice-blocking” polymers. These ice-blockers also reduce the critical cooling and warming rates necessary to avoid ice formation, which is an important requirement for solutions that are used to vitrify complex organs such as the human brain.

Because concentrated vitrification solutions depress the homogeneous nucleation temperature (Th) below the glass transition temperature (Tg), a major obstacle to successful vitrification is the presence of heterogenous nucleators. Some organisms have antifreeze proteins (AFPs) and anti-freeze glycoproteins (AFGPs) that mitigate heterogenous nucleation by binding to nucleators. Because adding such anti-nucleating proteins to vitrification solutions would be prohibitively expensive and less effective, Greg Fahy proposed the creation of synthetic ice-nucleation inhibiting polymers. In 2000 Wowk et al. published work that showed the effectiveness of a co-polymer of polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) and vinyl acetate in inhibiting heterogenous ice-nucleation. This co-polymer is now being sold by 21CM under the name “X-1000″. X-1000 is particularly effective in glycerol solutions, presumably because glycerol itself is a poor anti-nucleation agent. Increasing the concentration of X-1000 in vitrification solutions decreases ice formation and relaxes minimum cooling rates. Although X-1000 is presumed to be non-toxic, the maximum concentration in vitrification solutions does not exceed 1% w/v because no further benefits were observed beyond this concentration. In 2002, 21CM announced the discovery of another synthetic “ice-blocker” called Z-1000. Z-1000 is the polymer polyglycerol (PGL), which specifically inhibits ice nucleating activity caused by the bacterium Pseudomonas syringae. Mixtures of PVA and PGL are more effective in inhibiting ice formation than either agent alone, suggesting the PVA and PGL complement each other by inhibiting different sources (bacterial and non-bacterial) of ice nucleation.

A variant of Veg that includes the low molecular weight polymer polyvinylpyrrolidone K12, X-1000, and Z-1000 named VM3 improved viability in renal cortical slices and decreased the critical cooling and warming rates necessary to avoid ice formation and de-vitrification (ice formation during rewarming) while maintaining the same molar concentration as VS41A. The transition from Veg to VM3 reflects the two breakthroughs mentioned above: reduction of cryoprotectant toxicity by inclusion of non-penetrating polymers and ice blocking agents. VM3 also was the least toxic agent in vitrification of rat hippocampal brain slices, which is of particular importance for cryonics. The first vitrification agent ever to be introduced to cryonics was a hyperstable variant of VM3 called B2C. B2C was used until late 2005, when it was replaced by M22.

M22 takes advantage of two other discoveries: the ability to design better glass formers by methoxylation of conventional polyols, and inhibition of chilling injury by delivering the vitrification agent as a hypertonic solution. Because hydroxyl groups can bind either to water or hydroxyl groups on other cryoprotective agents, substituting methoxyl groups for hydroxyl groups should decrease interaction between cryoprotectants and increase interaction between the cryoprotectant and water. As a result, methoxylated compounds have stronger ice inhibiting ability, thus reducing the critical cooling rate for vitrification or reduce the concentration of (toxic) cryoprotective agents in a solution. Methoxylated cryoprotectants also decrease viscosity and increase cell permeability, allowing for shorter perfusion times, and thus reduced cryoprotectant exposure at higher temperatures. For example, the methoxylated glycerol derivative 3-methoxy-1,2-propanediol has a higher glass transition point and vitrifies at ~ 5% lower concentration than the corresponding conventional cryoprotective agent. Complete exploitation of these advantages is limited by the fact that they are more toxic than their non-methoxylated compound, as predicted by qv*. As can be seen in the table, the major difference between VM3 and M22 is the reduction of PVP K12 in favor of the penetrating cryoprotectants 3-methoxy-1,2-propanediol and n-methyl-formamide, and increased concentration of the ice-blocker Z-1000. The final molar concentration of 9.345 M demonstrates that more concentrated vitrification agents do not necessarily have to be more toxic.

VS41A

Veg

VM3

M22

Dimethyl sulfoxide

3.10 M

3.10 M

2.855 M

2.855 M

Formamide

3.10 M

3.10 M

2.855 M

2.855 M

Propylene glycol

2.21 M

-

-

-

Ethylene glycol

-

2.71 M

2.713 M

2.713 M

N-methylformamide

-

-

-

0.508 M

3-methoxy-1,2-propanediol

-

-

-

0.377 M

Polyvinyl pyrrolidone K12*

-

-

7% w/v

2.8% w/v

X-1000 ice blocker*

-

-

1% w/v

1% w/v

Z-1000 ice blocker*

-

-

1% w/v

2% w/v

Total Molarity

8.41 M

8.91 M

8.41 M

9.345 M

* Non-penetrating polymers are in w/v

M22, so called because it was intended to introduced at -22 degrees Celsius, constitutes a major landmark in vitrification of complex organs. In 2005 Fahy, Wowk et al. announced routine recovery of rabbit kidney slices from temperatures around -45 degrees Celsius. Although consistent recovery of vitrified organs is not yet feasible, continued progress in solution composition and perfusion techniques inspire optimism that this may be possible in the future. In 2007, Greg Fahy of 21CM reported recovery of electrical activity in vitrified brain slices and induction of long-term potentiation (LTP), which indicates that the structures for processing memory are maintained after vitrification, storage and rewarming of brain tissue. Visual evidence that M22 can preserve the ultrastructure of the brain better than B2C was published on the Alcor website in 2005.

M22 also needs to be used in a suitable carrier solution to support cell metabolism at low temperatures and decrease oxidative injury and edema. The carrier solution for M22 is called LM5 to reflect the 50% reduction of glucose (as compared to the older carrier solution RPS-2) in favor of equimolar concentrations of mannitol and lactose, to address compatibility problems with the ice blockers. The combination of the isotonic LM5 plus the non-penetrating polymers in M22 creates a hypertonic solution, which has been shown to eliminate chilling injury, which is the injury that is caused by exposure to low temperatures as such. For cryonics, the composition of M22 is further enhanced by including a proprietary components that allows perfusion of whole body patients without edema.

The research breakthroughs discussed above allow for a global reconstruction of the composition of M22 using the table. Maintained is the equimolar combination of DMSO and formamide from Fahy’s older vitrification solutions to reconcile strong glass formation ability and minimal toxicity. The discovery of the  compositional variable qv* allows for substitution of higher concentrations of the weaker glass former ethylene glycol for propylene glycol. Substitution of a non-penetrating polymer, PVP K12, and the ice-blockers X-1000 and Z-100 allow for further reduction of DMSO and formamide, reduction of critical cooling rates, and increased stability against ice formation. In M22, PVP K12 is reduced to optimize hypertonicity of the non-penetrating agents for suppression of chilling injury. Added are the methoxylated cryoprotectant 3-methoxy-1,2-propanediol and the highly permeable amide n-methyl-formamide, producing the least toxic but most concentrated vitrification solution to date.

The most striking differences between Alcor’s old perfusate and the newer vitrification agents licensed from 21CM are complexity and cost. Until 2002, Alcor patients were perfused with high molar glycerol in an MHP-2 based carrier solution. M22 itself consists of 8 (!) different components, putting the total number of components of M22 in carrier solution above 15. Such perfusates makes great demands on preparation skills and quality controls. Components such as the ice blockers and 3-methoxy-1,2-propanediol have put the cost of Alcor’s whole body perfusate alone close to the cost of complete cryopreservation arrangements at the Cryonics Institute (CI). This raises obvious questions about costs and benefits. As evidenced by CI’s VM-1, potent protection against ice formation can be achieved with a vitrification agent that solely consists of DMSO and ethylene glycol. It is plausible to assume that vitrification lessens demand on future repair technologies, but it speculative to assume that minor differences in toxicity between different vitrification agents will translate in earlier resuscitation and less expensive repair protocols. However, more toxic vitrification solutions, such as CI’s VM-1, may cause acute injury to endothelial cells. As Brian Wowk notes, “good cryoprotection depends on good perfusion, which depends on preservation of vascular integrity during perfusion. The ability to perfuse M22 into whole bodies with tolerable edema is likely to be intimately related to its low toxicity to vascular endothelium.” And of course, there are also PR advantages to the fact that a cryonics organization uses a vitrification agent that is also the state of the art in conventional cryopreservation of organs.

M22 produces substantial brain shrinking during perfusion of (non-ischemic) patients. As a matter of fact, cerebral dehydration may be a major contributing factor to vitrification of the brain and even allow for reduced concentrations of M22 for brain preservation. This does not mean that the (expensive) non-penetrating polymers could be replaced for any high molecular weight polymer because the ice blockers and non-penetrating cryoprotective agents also protect the extracellular space against ice formation and are effective in ischemic patients with a compromised blood brain barrier (BBB). The limited ability of some components of M22 to cross the BBB and, and differences in permeability of the various components of M22, does raise questions about the exact composition of M22 beyond the BBB and within brain cells after completion of cryoprotective perfusion.

Patients outside of the US may not fully benefit from cryopreservation with M22 because of the of long cold ischemic times during transport. This raises the question if cryonics patients can be perfused outside of the US and shipped in dry ice. Experiments with VM-1 in bulk solution indicate that this solution is very stable against ice formation, even during long storage periods. M22 in bulk solution seems to form ice crystals overnight if stored in dry ice. This does not necessarily mean that M22 cannot be used in combination with dry ice for overseas patients because human tissue perfused with M22 (or any cryoprotective agent) is not the same as M22 in pure solution. But regardless of M22′s compatibility with dry ice shipping, cryonics organizations may benefit from formulating a highly concentrated inexpensive vitrification solution that is extremely robust against formation of ice, which can be used for simple perfusion of non-US patients in combination with dry ice shipping. The decreased cold ischemic times of such a solution may outweigh the increased toxicity of such solutions.