So you’re cryogenically preserved, “chilling” in your storage dewar, waiting to wake up in the future. A decade goes by, you’re still there just the same, and your relatives “outside” might start thinking: “What’s taking them so long? Can’t they be revived already? Is it really that hard?” Unfortunately, yes.
Revival from biostasis and curing the underlying cause of death is the most difficult part of the process. It might take medicine more than one lifetime to figure out (which is the point of cryopreservation to begin with). Presently, we can’t give a reliable estimate of when that would be. What we can give is the certainty that we are aware of which problems need to be solved to get there. We’re already actively working on some of them. Let’s look at the challenges cryonicists are faced with one by one.
Revival from biostasis has multiple technological and medical requirements before it becomes a viable option. We require machines that are able to analyze a patient's condition, and capable of administering medical procedures designed to heal them. Furthermore, we are tasked with fully understanding the underlying cause of death and thereafter inventing said procedures. As long as there is no solution to ALL of these, we won’t attempt revival, so as to not put you at risk.
Possible revival options can only be assumed, whilst theoretical solutions include in situ repair (tissue restoration via nanobots), molecular scan-and-restore, and scan-to-WBE (brain-upload). In this article we will focus on the former two, due to the success-criteria of a scan-to-WBE being entirely different.
Let’s go through the steps one by one:
Our first challenge is as obvious as it is difficult. If you find yourself in cryopreservation, it means your first lifetime has come to an end and you have been declared legally dead. What that really means is that your body has initiated a biological reaction that was deemed irreversible at the time of your cryopreservation. The first condition before revival therefore is clear: We have to reverse, aka cure, your cause of death.
Because not every death is equal, a record about patients’ cause of death is kept, informing future cryonicists about the type of cure needed before revival can be considered. Before you’re alarmed about your record being lost over time, rest assured that we can always just rely on scanning technology to get information about your condition in the future.
If the cause of death was cancer, healing of the cancer cells will be necessary (e.g. via genome editing), in case of organ-failure, revitalization or substitution of said organ comes first. In any case, scientists will have to “restart” your brain functions, so you can regain consciousness. Because of the complexity of our brain, and depending on the quality of your cryopreservation, this could potentially pose a great challenge.
Each of these procedures would have to occur at a molecular level, much too small for humans to crudely operate on. Researchers are hard at work developing technology that can aid us in our efforts. Advancements in nanotechnology, such as medical nanorobots capable of operating in extremely cold conditions, will likely prove crucial to revival from biostasis.
Bringing you back to life wouldn’t make much sense if you were to die of so-called “natural causes” soon after. You’d be especially bummed out if you woke up in the same biological state you were preserved in if your cause of death was determined as “old age” in the first place.
In this case - to guarantee your second life won’t be short-lived - your body needs to undergo a process called “Rejuvenation”.
Scientists commonly discuss nine hallmarks of aging that need to be addressed to achieve this goal.
These aging denominators include:
These taken together make up what we would call “(biological) aging”. Dying of old age therefore doesn’t mean that your time has simply come and that there’s no way back. Just like with any other disease, underlying conditions exist that can potentially be cured.
Luckily, aging research has been rapidly advancing in recent decades, hinting at possible solutions to be discovered sooner rather than later.
It’s likely that this problem may be solved long before revival is possible, and be a standard medical procedure by that time.
Unfortunately, there is one more critical step that stands between us and future revival. To ensure a high quality cryopreservation today, we are forced to rely on methods that can’t be easily reversed. There are two key issues we need to solve that make rewarming from cryopreservation a difficult task.
If a cryopreserved body is simply warmed, devitrification occurs, which in turn would lead cryoprotection agents to become liquid again and spread throughout your body. These substances are inherently toxic above glass-transition temperature. To prevent them from damaging your cells, they have to be substituted with blood before rewarming. Yet, if water is warmed through the glass-transition temperature, ice crystals will take shape. The only way to circumvent that, would be to warm back up sufficiently fast so that ice doesn’t have time to form. Technology to warm at such speeds with enough precision does not yet exist.
An additional issue arises due to different organs warming at different rates and uniform warming of the entire body being crucial. Rewarming has been successfully done on smaller organisms, but scaling up to the size of a human poses a challenge. Our best bet once again lies in nanotechnology. Nanowarming could help by warming individual tissues at their individual optimal speed. Yet, for this to be possible, extensive research must be conducted first.
Avoiding any damage will be near-impossible. For that reason, we will have to have repairing tools and techniques at hand.
For exact repairs on a molecular scale, we could utilize medical nanorobots once again. By tunneling through the circulatory system they would not only be capable of reaching and identifying damaged tissue but also directly treating them. They would have to be capable of conducting these operations with extreme precision. Needless to say, technological research will require some time to get there.
Apart from the technological and medical challenges we are faced with, the world itself will certainly have changed in many ways since your cryopreservation. That brings with it more societal challenges we can’t simply ignore.
One of the first tasks of your second life after biostasis will be relearning the rules of society and the state of the world while also accumulating knowledge about history between your cryopreservation and your revival.
Will money still exist? Will jobs still exist? How far has tech and medicine advanced? (probably far after the fact that you’ve been revived). These questions must be answered, or else you’ll find yourself in a pickle rather quickly.
This displays the need for a support system. This can be provided by cryonics members that have made it their mission to reintegrate you into society.
Adapting to a new culture and environment can be a tough task, so this challenge should not be taken lightly, even if the hardest part of revival would already be lying behind you at this point.
Unsure what future integration could look like and what it might entail? Take a look at our other article here, that goes more in-depth on this aspect of revival.
This might sound like a lot of steps, but time is none of your concern as there is no expiration date on your cryopreservation. Storage is indefinite (with no additional cost) and science ever-advancing. Without revival, biostasis wouldn’t make much sense, so it is as much part of our mission as cryopreservation itself is. Different technological and medical fields such as nanotechnology and genome-editing might aid in reaching our goal in the future. With the help of future supporters invested in our mission, we are hopeful that humanity will overcome all of these challenges together.
If you have any more questions regarding cryonics or future revival, feel free to schedule a call with us. We are happy to talk to you!