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The Process Of Cryopreserving A Patient

Have a look at the human cryopreservation process and its challenges.

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So you’ve heard about human cryopreservation, and you now understand how cryonics works. But this information is likely not enough to fully grasp what happens when a person legally dies. Some of the questions you might still have could be: how does a biostasis provider (e.g. Tomorrow Bio) get a patient’s body to the facility where they will be stored? Or how does a company service their customers when they are located hours away? What are the challenges of preserving a human being?

At our first Biostasis conference, international cryo medicine specialist Eric Vogt gave a talk about the challenges biostasis aka cryonics providers face when it comes to transporting a patient’s body to the designated long-term storage facility. He also described the ways current cryonics organizations must act in order to ensure that their clients' bodies receive the best possible cryopreservation procedure. Based on this, let's look together at the challenges and possible solutions.

SST Method 

In his talk, Eric outlines what must be done before bringing a person’s body to a cryopreservation facility. Cryonics specialists call this method SST. SST stands for Standby, Stabilization, and Transportation.

Ideally, a standby team is dispatched when notified that a patient is in critical condition. In most cases, this happens long before their heartbeat stops and the process of death begins. Now, the team has to wait until that person is declared legally dead by a medical professional (a patient can’t be cryopreserved while still alive). Once this happens, the team begins the next stage of stabilization. In the case of Tomorrow Bio, our standby teams are trained and equipped for field cryopreservation. Thus, they will be able to perform the procedure wherever the patient is located. In the case of other cryonics providers, a third-party service will have to be organized or the patient will need to relocate close to the long-term storage facility before death occurs.

Doctors performing medical treatment on a patient.
A medical team introducing cryoprotectants to a patient’s body.

Stabilization of the patient requires multiple steps that are started simultaneously, The body is cooled with ice. Specialized medication is given to the patient and blood flow is mechanically re-established in the body. At this point, the trained doctors of the standby team start the perfusion of the cryoprotective agent.

Once the body is fully perfused, the team can transport the patient by plane, car, train etc. to the proper facility on dry ice. At this point, the chosen cryonics provider stores the patient indefinitely. When medical technology has advanced enough to cure the disease that led to their death in the first place and bring them back from being cryogenically preserved, they’ll be revived.

An airplane taking off.
In some situations, a domestic flight can be a feasible method for transporting a patient’s body to its final destination

Challenges for Standby Teams

This SST method works flawlessly under best-case scenario circumstances, but certain challenges arise as there are many non-ideal cases standby teams have to deal with. Eric explains what biostasis teams must address in order to give their patients the needed treatment.

Time & Distance

Quick response is key for high quality cryopreservation. In order to preserve a body successfully, the process must start as soon as legal death is declared. This ensures that medical professionals can minimize ischemic damage and cellular decay in a person’s body. Ideally, the SST is notified prior to a patient’s death that their health has taken a turn for the worst. Statistically, most people die of diseases associated with ‘old-age’, so when there are medical signs of imminent death, doctors can contact cryonics providers ahead of time. This ensures that the SST can be near the patient prior to legal death. This is the “best-case scenario”. However, as Eric noted in his talk, it can sometimes take hours, even days to reach a patient depending on where they are. This poses a challenge to the level of cryopreservation.

Time and distance are the two key factors that can impact the quality of the procedure. The longer it takes to reach a patient, the more time they may have to remain in biostasis until they can be fully revived. Depending on where a patient is, the SST can use either ground transportation or air, depending on location. 

At Tomorrow Bio, we provide on-site field cryopreservation (FCP). This means that we don’t need to wait till a patient reaches our long-term storage facility in Switzerland, but can perform stabilization, perfusion, and vitrification on location. While transportation and time to reach a patient is a key factor that cryonics organizations must consider, utilizing field cryopreservation is a method that can address the issue of time and distance during the procedure. 

FCP reduces the time gap between legal death and the start of the cryoprotection process. By starting the stabilization process sooner, the quality of vitrification will be better than if a team must deliver a patient to a separate facility. Additionally, when the procedure is completed a patient can be maintained for hours to days before being placed in the cryogenic storage dewar

How Tomorrow Bio Is Addressing These Challenges

The goal of a successful cryonics provider should be to provide the highest possible quality cryopreservation. This means that SST teams need to be able to reach patients quickly and start the cryopreservation process as soon as possible. How are we at Tomorrow Bio attempting to solve these issues related to SST for human cryopreservation? 

Firstly, Tomorrow Bio makes use of ambulances and specialized medical teams that are fully equipped for stabilizing a patient. We have a trained team on call 24/7 in Berlin, Germany, and one in Amsterdam, the Netherlands through a partner organization. In the event of sudden death, the team is alerted and dispatched. Depending on the case, the team can reach a patient with our specialized ambulance. If a patient is too far away, other forms of transportation will be arranged, and our portable equipment will be taken to carry out field cryopreservation. Finally, as part of our complete cryopreservation program, we allocate €80,000 for transportation so we can reach a patient in any situation. This means that:

A)   We can quickly reach a patient with different means of transportation when legal death is declared

B) In the case a patient happens to be located very far e.g. outside of Europe, Tomorrow Bio can still reach them quickly. We would send a mobile team to recover the patient, using other means of transportation 

C) Our regularly trained medical team can almost immediately begin the introduction of the cryoprotectant in our fully-equipped ambulance

D) The team can easily deliver a patient to our long-term storage facility

Despite the many hurdles of cryonics, companies like Tomorrow Bio are prepared to address these challenges. By reducing the time between processes, we make sure that our patients receive the highest quality cryopreservation available.

Conclusion

In an ideal world, cryonics organizations and facilities would be closely located to anyone interested in human cryopreservation. Until then, scientists and medical professionals are figuring out the best ways to reach patients and secure them for long-term storage until future revival. Whatever challenges cryonics entails, Tomorrow Bio is ready to tackle them, however, and whenever possible. 

Want to learn more about Tomorrow Bio? Check out Tomorrow Insight where you can learn more about us, what we do, and the world of cryonics. Have questions about us? You can reach us via Discord, we’re happy to answer anything and everything.


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