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So you want to live longer, much longer. How do you go about it? You’ve been on diets, you exercise regularly, you’ve even taken your vitamins. Maybe you've been researching the latest discoveries in longevity science and, after coming across cryonics, you're wondering what it's all about. Tomorrow Bio’s here to answer your question.
Cryonics, aka human cryopreservation, is the practice of preserving human bodies at sub-freezing temperatures (-196°C) after their legal death. The aim is to treat the causes of death and restore the patient to good health when medical technology has the capability.
In this article, we’ll cover some of the basic information related to this potentially life-saving technology.
To better understand cryonics, you should know what happens inside the body when the temperature is lowered. You may have heard stories in the news about people surviving for over an hour after falling into frozen lakes before being rescued. Their hearts stopped beating but they lived to tell the tale. How is that possible?
The icy water lowered their temperature, slowed their metabolism, and greatly reduced their brain function to the point where almost no oxygen was required. So the temperature of the icy water had put their body into a kind of suspended animation.
Cryonics uses a similar, but more complex process. At even lower temperatures, cell decay is stopped entirely. A type of biological pause similar to natural biostasis is initiated. Once in this state, people can theoretically be stored indefinitely, allowing time for technology to advance to a point where treatment of their cause of death and revival is possible.
So, even though they’re ‘dead’, cryonics patients can still be treated. Just not today.
So, What Happens When My Heart Stops Beating?
Cryopreservation can only begin once someone has been declared legally dead.
Once you die and your heartbeat stops pumping blood, your vital organs are starved of oxygen. Cells within your body begin to recycle themselves and decay as a result. To stop the process of death before degradation significantly damages the body and brain, it’s important to start the cryopreservation process as close to legal death as possible.
Human Cryopreservation Procedure
By reaching the patients quickly, lowering their temperature and performing certain steps (which we will cover shortly), our SST teams are able to preserve them indefinitely.
Minimizing the damage to the body and brain is important because it results in higher quality cryopreservation. This means that future technology won’t need to be as advanced in order to revive you. So, you could be revived sooner, rather than later.
Initial Cool Down and CPS
After the patient is declared legally dead, cryopreservation can begin. The temperature of the patient is immediately brought down as quickly as possible. This is done with a water bath and slurry of ice.
Cardio-pulmonary support (CPS) is then started. CPS is similar to CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation), however the key difference is that CPS isn’t trying to revive the patient. Instead, oxygenated blood is manually pumped through the body to slow down cell degradation. CPS is used until a heart-lung machine can be attached to the patient. This is a machine that oxygenates the blood and keeps it moving through the patient. It also plays a role in the subsequent perfusion, but we will cover that below. This all acts as a way to hold back the damage of cell decay.
During all these steps, your body temperature is gradually cooled. This is important because, like when people have fallen in frozen lakes, lower temperatures slow your metabolism and cell decay. At lower temperatures, cells require less oxygen to survive and so your bodily degradation is drastically slowed down. Initial cool-down stages can be performed by the people around a patient at the time of death, but the next steps must be carried out by specially trained teams called SST or standby teams. Most cryonics organizations deploy their own standby team to you before your death, but local voluntary teams can also be used in emergencies.
Perfusion and Vitrification
Once your temperature reaches around 4°C, perfusion can begin. This is a process where water within your body is replaced with a type of medical-grade antifreeze - a cryoprotective agent (CPA). The heart-lung machine attached to the patient pumps these CPAs throughout the body. CPAs protect the cells against the formation of ice when the body reaches sub-zero temperatures. Ice crystals, having sharp edges, would damage the tissues.
Once the body has been perfused, the temperature can gradually be lowered further. At around -125°C, the body undergoes a process called vitrification and turns into a glass-like amorphous state. It solidifies but doesn’t freeze. Once vitrified, all biological processes in the body stop, meaning patients can remain preserved in this state indefinitely without degradation.
After you’ve been vitrified, you can be transported to a long-term storage location. Once there, your body temperature will be brought down slowly over the coming weeks until you reach -196°C (the temperature of liquid nitrogen). You will then be stored in a metal container or cryogenic storage dewar and your temperature will be maintained indefinitely.
This is achieved with monitoring by staff and receiving a constant supply of liquid nitrogen. Your long-term storage is sustained by the fund management of a separate foundation whose sole function is to maintain your funds securely. They make extremely low risk investments with your money as a way to match inflation and cover your ongoing costs. More information can be found here.
Since your cryopreservation can be maintained indefinitely, technology will have time to significantly advance. Who knows what will be possible in 50, 100, or 1,000 years! Once revival is possible, you will be revived.
The technology involved in revival will no doubt be expensive upon its initial conception. However, over time, as the technology is understood more, the price will come down. But you are able to remain cryopreserved indefinitely, so there is time for the cost to come down. Time is on your side.
Why Do People Believe It Will Work?
There is increasing interest in cryonics. Not merely because of the rapid speed of scientific and technological advancements we are seeing, but also due to cryopreservation’s use within science. Preservation techniques similar to whole body cryopreservation are commonplace in medicine already. So, it’s not absurd to believe that cryonics won’t eventually be too. Currently, medical technology is able to cryopreserve human embryos, sperm, blood and eggs for years, when necessary. All of which can be thawed and used in reproduction.
We can all agree that the world is rapidly changing around us. Scientific discovery is at the forefront of technological developments. One particular field of science that could revolutionize society is nanotechnology. We are now able to envisage ways in which we will be able to repair biological structure. Nanotechnology could facilitate cell repair and regeneration. It could theoretically assist in reviving those who are cryopreserved.
There is no evidence to suggest that cryonics won’t work. Just because we don’t have the technology to reanimate someone today, doesn’t mean it will never happen.
Cryonics could be a bridge to the future. It is a potentially life-saving medical procedure that would transport untreatable people to the hospital of the future. Just because someone can’t be saved today, doesn’t mean they can’t ever be saved. Nobody knows what will happen in the future, but what we do know is that you can be cryopreserved today. Human cryopreservation is currently the only technology that could bring you to that future. What have you got to lose?