Learn how Dr. Emil Kendziorra plans to move the field of human cryopreservation forwards.
Two hundred years ago, the average human life span was ≈40. A century ago, it was 55. Now, it’s right around 80 (1). Today, if someone dies at the age of 55, it is considered a tragedy, and everyone agrees that they went “before their time”. Dying at the age of 85+, on the other hand, is considered “normal” (except for when family/friends are affected). It shouldn’t be! In cases like this, it’s important to remember that “Normal” does not equal “Good”. While sometimes correlated, history has shown us over and over how they are not.
For me personally, dying at 85 is and always was as unacceptable as dying at a younger age. Changing that, has been my motivation since I was 18 years old. I went on to study medicine to make an impact on human longevity. My goal was not only to increase health span (i.e. people living and staying healthy until their time of death) but to increase maximum life span while maintaining a high quality of life. The goal would be to ultimately archive what is called “longevity escape velocity”, whereby we would first extend life span by a few years, then during those extra years, extend life by a few additional years, until eventually we gain more than one extra year per year (2).
After graduation and finalising my doctoral thesis in cancer research, I went on to run tech companies in Berlin (with some crypto on the side) to build a war chest. While successful, they were never my life’s passion. I always kept an eye open for opportunities in the longevity space that fit my skill set. Now the time has come to make that switch and get involved full-time.
The longevity community has made significant progress over the last decade, growing more professional, attracting considerable amounts of funding and producing the first seriously compelling results. But despite these advances made in recent years, progress will likely not be fast or more precisely, fast enough for a lot of people alive today. While significant health span extension seems to be achievable and can be observed (3), the extension of maximum life span seems to be significantly less likely.
While I can’t get into the full details here, as this would go beyond the scope of this text, here is a brief summary of arguments:
Finally, it’s important to note that I direly hope I am wrong! I hope that in 10 or 20 years I need to admit that I was overly pessimistic. If longevity-extending technology becomes available, I’m happy either way. But unfortunately, I don’t think this will be the case any time soon.
Based on all of this, I decided to dedicate myself to the only alternative I know. Biostasis.
Here’s a brief introduction: Biostasis (in this case) is the concept of preserving the human body, especially the brain and its connectome (i.e. the sum of all connections that make you you) without the loss of information. By employing very low temperatures and special cryoprotective agents, this stops all biological degradation processes and enables the possibility of resuscitation in the future once advanced enough technology is available. At a time when currently fatal diseases are curable and human life span is significantly longer with high quality of life. For a detailed write-up of the concept and one implantation of biostasis, see this WaitButWay article (6).
To most people, this sounds like science fiction. And by some definitions it currently is. But it is important to consider that 20 or even 10 years before the very first heart transplantation, it would have been considered science fiction as well. Now it is a common medical procedure that no one would want to miss. As a matter of fact, for most of history, what is science fiction today is cutting edge science tomorrow and a common, standard procedure the day after.
So why is biostasis more likely than quick breakthroughs in longevity research? Again, this could be discussed at length, but it too would go beyond the scope, so here are a few high-level arguments:
I have two main motivations for this: 1) I want to see us building a better world. With longer lifespans, we’d be incentivized to treat people and the world with a more long-term mindset. The stigma for old age will be reduced. And we wouldn’t have to permanently say goodbye to our loved ones ever again. 2) I very much like living! I don’t believe “an end” is required to give value to life. And to be honest, I’m afraid of death and non-existence. Both of them being strong drivers of motivation.
In the end, I’ll dedicate everything I have to give to solve this problem!
Preservation and resuscitation currently works in certain model organisms such as worms (7). While hundreds of humans have been preserved, none have been resuscitated yet. In fact, resuscitation hasn’t been attempted yet as it is obvious that more advanced future technology is required. In a way, as of now, biostasis is a educated bet on future technology — it has been called “the best of bad options”.
As mentioned, preservation and resuscitation currently works in certain model animals (8). Individual organs can be preserved (9) and the connectome can arguably be preserved (10) While this is a good basis and ”proof of principle”, significantly more research is need!
As with any new technology, there are fundamental, high-level problems and devil-in-the-details problems. For example: How can we preserve the connectome sufficiently well? How can we reduce toxicity of the process? How will resuscitation work in general and in detail The good thing is that for preservation, the high-level problems are relatively well understood. For resuscitation, more fundamental work is required (but as mentioned, time is not much of an issue here).
This questions is very difficult to answer in a general way, as it is a very personal issue. For me, the answers are: I like life. I would like to continue living as long as possible. I’m afraid of death.
Unfortunately, every new technology is relatively expensive in the very beginning. Currently, most people finance their contracts via term life insurance (approximately 10–50 Euro / month, mostly depending on age and health). On the other hand, biostasis costs should drop significantly with scale. It’s one of my highest priorities to make it affordable for any budget.
While you could argue that on some scales they are, I believe that it is extremely important to do the thing that drives you intrinsically. For me this is biostasis.
As of 2020, there are about 3.000 people with biostasis contracts worldwide with a very small growth rate. While I hope this will change in the future, even an increase by two, three, or even four orders of magnitude will not lead to a relevant increase in the larger picture. And if the current prediction of population growth holds true, then the world population will level off around 11 billion. See this overview by Pew Research (11).
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