Between your initial cryopreservation process and possible revival in the future lies an indefinite amount of time in long-term storage. To keep cryopreserved patients safely stored for so long, facilities are specifically built for the purpose of cryopreservation.
What do these facilities look like, what has to be considered when building one, and what’s inside? We’ll answer all of these and more questions in this article.
As the name would suggest, the main purpose of these facilities is to store cryopreserved patients for an indefinite period of time. In the case of cryonics, we’re talking about human bodies (or heads in the case of neuro-only) that are stored inside specialized cryogenic dewars (Alcor, EBF) or cryostats (CI). Either fully submerged in liquid nitrogen at -196°C or in the vapor phase ( (ITS-systems), at 140°C) with the goal to fully preserve their cell-structures until future revival is possible.
To get to this point, patients first have to go through the initial stages of the cryoprotection process after legal death. For this, their bodies are cooled down and perfused with cryoprotectants. Most providers of human cryopreservation perform perfusion once the body has reached the storage facility or relay on third party services for SST. Tomorrow Bio offers field-cryoprotection as part of its service where perfusion happens at the patient’s location.
Once the patient’s body temperature has been sufficiently cooled and perfusion is complete, they are be transported to the long-term storage facility. These are usually built in areas with very little to no risk of natural catastrophes and legal environments that are beneficial to human cryopreservation. Prolonged safety is of utmost importance. Tomorrow Bio’s patients are stored at the European Biostasis Foundation’s facility in Rafz, Switzerland.
From the outside, a cryonics long-term storage facility might not look much different from a regular warehouse (with some unusual ventilation system), and it doesn’t need to. What makes one such facility special is the extra safety precautions and the contents found inside.
The heart of any cryonics long-term storage facility are the dewars, or cryostats in the case of CI. These cryogenic “capsules” can hold multiple bodies each, split into individual storage chambers. Patients are submerged upside down in liquid nitrogen. Thanks to their vertical design, a single facility can hold a large number of dewars, and therefore patients.
Perfusion with cryoprotectants is an important part of the cryoprotection process. It prevents the formation of ice-crystals within the body that would otherwise deal significant damage to the cells. Remember, freezing is the very last thing wea standby team wants a patient to undergo.
Alcor and CI usually conduct their perfusion inside their storage facilities, after the patient has been brought there. Tomorrow Bio takes a different approach with field-cryoprotection. We have our own two separate perfusion systems: a stationary system inside the Tomorrow ambulance, and a portable one depending on transportation. Nevertheless, our long-term storage facility is also equipped with a perfusion system. Should the patient be located near the facility, they’d be perfused there.
A successful perfusion is only possible with the necessary cryoprotectant agents. Therefore, an abundant amount of cryoprotectant agents are kept on-site and cooled. This approach allows for immediate deployment for any sudden cases.
When a patient reaches the facility, their body temperature is usually between -20°C and -80°C if field cryoprotection has been done. The only step missing is to cool them down to the temperature of liquid nitrogen (which is -196°C). Cooling chambers are used to gradually lower the temperature of patients to -196°C. These chambers are usually fully automated. Computerized cooling allows for a more controlled lowering of the temperature to avoid thermal stress.
For organizations without their own standby team, it makes sense to select a facility that is close to your location. The closer a facility is to a patient the faster the process can be. Choosing the most suitable provider and storage facility could impact the quality of your cryopreservation. There are multiple cryonics providers that operate different storage facilities.
Here are some of the best options:
One of the newest completed facilities is based in Rafz, Switzerland in the heart of central Europe, which is organized by EBF in partnership with Tomorrow Bio.
The storage facility also acts as a research-center for cryonics, and was built with stability, scalability, and security over many decades in mind. The geographical and political landscape of Switzerland is highly beneficial for cryonics operations within Europe in all of these aspects. For added security, patients are stored in the underground part of the facility
As of the publication of this article, the long-term storage has been officially opened for operations.
Alcor’s facility is located in Scottsland, Arizona in the south-west of the USA. Currently more than 180 patients are stored there, including the very first cryopreserved human, James Bedford, who was transferred to this facility in September 1987.
The Alcor facility in Scottsdale has a very long history, and has successfully defended their operations from being shut down by ill-mannered attempts in the past.
The Cryonics Institute (CI) owns and operates a fully-operational cryonics facility located in Clinton Township, Michigan in the north-east of the USA. CI currently maintains over 100 patients in biostasis at this facility, which has been operating successfully since their first patient, Rhea Ettinger, was preserved in 1977. The father of cryonics, Robert Ettinger, was CI’s 106th patient.
Their facility is presently being built in Holbrook, Australia, geographically placed right in between the two cities Melbourne and Sydney, in the south-west of the country. The facility is scheduled for its grand opening in late 2022 to early 2023.
As you can see, there are many options for cryopreservation storage with more (hopefully) coming in the near future. One of these facilities can hold many dewars and maintain hundreds of patients, meaning that we won’t run out of space anytime soon. Having an option close-by can significantly increase the quality of cryopreservation in the long-run.
Once more people sign up for cryopreservation in the future, new facilities will be built to meet the demand accordingly and resulting economies of scale could bring down the cost of cryonics.
Want to know more about cryonics? Check out our other articles on Tomorrow Insight or read our newly published ebook on Tomorrow Bio.