Let's say you've just come across cryonics. Perhaps you’ve heard of it before. You’ve probably watched some film where the protagonists entered a state of suspended animation that allowed them to travel between galaxies. Yet, real-life human cryopreservation is a little different from what’s commonly seen in entertainment media.
For this reason, it’s only fair that you ask questions; from the simplest to the most complex. At Tomorrow Bio, it’s important for us to provide you with all the answers you need. So, in case you’ve ever wondered how long we’ll be able to keep you cryopreserved, take a look below.
To start, is there any physical limitation to cryopreservation? Is there a point after which the human body can no longer tolerate the condition of biostasis at -196°C? The answer is no. Technically speaking, a patient can remain cryopreserved for a practically indefinite period of time without damage or degradation. To understand this in detail, a brief introduction to cryonics is in order.
Human cryopreservation allows a patient's body and/or brain to be preserved at cryogenic temperatures. At Tomorrow Bio, we offer a whole-body cryopreservation service where you will be stored from head to toe.
This only happens upon the legal death of a cryonics member. The SST or standby team, a specialized medical team equipped to perform the cryopreservation, begins the procedure. First, they lower the temperature of the body using a mixture of ice and water, thus slowing down metabolic activity. Cells are kept oxygenated thanks to an automatic chest-compression device which keeps the blood circulating and a laryngeal tube for external oxygenation. Once the team is ready, this device is removed and they start the perfusion procedure.
After accessing the chest cavity surgically, the SST team cannulates the aorta and vena cava (largest vein in the body), and attaches the perfusion system. This pumps in different concentrations of cryoprotective agents (CPAs), gradually replacing the blood inside the body. The purpose of perfusion is twofold: as the agent passes through all the arteries and veins, they produce an internal cooling effect on the core temperature. Furthermore, by replacing the blood and water in the body, CPAs minimize the damage that would occur if the water were to crystallize at sub-zero temperatures. This way, instead of freezing, the body can enter a glass-like amorphous state and be vitrified.
Now, imagine if your body was in a glass-like amorphous state. Hard to imagine? Ever wondered what it feels like to be a glass? Don't worry, we can help you.
Normally, the human body has several qualities. To the touch, it might feel like a solid, but solids are usually not as elastic as tissue can be. Additionally, we are composed of 60% water (but we definitely can’t define ourselves as liquids). Six elements (oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, carbon, calcium, and phosphorus) come together in our bodies to form a total of 200 specialized cell types. Each one plays a fundamental role in the functioning of the organism. The process of generating the energy needed to sustain all these different tasks is referred to as metabolic activity.
Now, when you enter a glass-like amorphous state, all these functions are stopped. In this state of pause they no longer require energy to function. There is no need for oxygen or nutrients and there is no metabolic activity, meaning that there is also no cellular degradation. This is the reason why, from a biological point of view, you can remain in this state indefinitely.
This brings us to the next point. Can we maintain this state for as long as necessary from an economic perspective?
Once the cryonics patient is vitrified by one of our medical teams, it's time to place them in the cryogenic storage dewar for long-term preservation.
The storage dewars are similar to thermos flasks in that they are highly efficient at maintaining internal temperature. The dewars are filled with liquid nitrogen, which has a temperature of -196°C. This method of preservation is safer and cheaper than any other means using electricity. In fact, even if the power were cut off, cryopreserved patients would not be affected.
Yet, there is one thing to consider. Since the outside temperature is much higher than the temperature of the liquid inside the dewar, the liquid nitrogen boils off and constantly escapes in gaseous form. Employees in the storage facility will have to take care of refilling the dewars. So, for long-term care, one has to add up the cost of liquid nitrogen, the salaries of the workers', and possible expenses for emergency situations. If storage goes on for hundreds of years, it may not be a small sum. So, at what point does the fee paid by you (or your insurance policy) at the time of legal death stop covering the costs? Planwise, never.
The total amount paid to fund your cryopreservation is €200.000. Of this, €80.000 is for the procedure and transportation, and the remaining €120.000 is for long-term care (storage).
This money, however, does not stay lying in some account, slowly depleting over time. A patient care trust, called the Tomorrow Patient Foundation, takes care of the fund management of cryopreserved patients. The funds are put into low-risk investments with a return of 1-2% above inflation.
Essentially, the low risk return from these investments will cover the running costs of keeping a patient cryopreserved - for as long as necessary. Since the sum invested is rather high, even in the case of emergency situations there should be the necessary funds to ensure the well-being of cryonics patients. This method has been used to successfully keep patients cryopreserved in the US for over 50 years, despite several financial crises. Be it decades or centuries, you will be kept cryopreserved and as safe as possible.
Human cryopreservation might seem at first glance (and even at a second or third glance) to be a rather complex procedure. Not only does it require a very fast response time, but it is also still a niche topic with little investment or growth - although at Tomorrow Bio we are working to change this.
We must also consider the fact that the future is, broadly speaking, difficult to predict. We can't say how long it will take for reanimation technology to be developed. There are many challenges to overcome. However, on our side, we have set up a safe system that is made to last. There is no time limit to your cryopreservation. You will remain preserved until the day it is possible to revive you.
Now that you have found the answer to your question, what's next? Do you want to know how a bad lifestyle could affect your procedure? Or how neuropreservation works? Or maybe you're wondering if your family will be able to arrange a funeral after your cryopreservation. These and many other answers are covered in our online editorial Tomorrow Insight. Pay us a visit!