Let’s assume that you are considering cryopreservation. You did your research and decided that this is something you want to do. Now you’re looking at different providers, comparing prices and services. At this point, you notice something: some providers offer two different options: whole-body and neuro cryopreservation. What are the differences? And why do some providers, such as Tomorrow Bio, offer only the whole-body option?
As the name suggests, if you choose whole-body cryopreservation your whole body will be cryopreserved after legal death. Head to toe. You will be kept in biological pause until revival technology is developed. Only then can your cause of death possibly be treated and your cells rejuvenated. Theoretically, you will wake up from cryopreservation in a young, healthy body.
In contrast, in the neuro option only your head is cryopreserved - but we’ll discuss that later.
What are the advantages of having your entire body preserved?
The difference between whole-body and neuro cryopreservation, in general, lies in the fact that the former uses the aortic arch and vena cava (close to the heart) for cryoprotection. The latter, on the other hand, uses the carotids and, ideally, also the vertebral arteries (in the neck), since the focus is on the brain. The neuro option usually doesn’t rely on open heart surgery.
Apart from that, the procedure is quite similar between the two methods. Whole-body cryopreservation, however, is a bit more complex as it aims to preserve every part of the body with minimal damage. The neuro option is faster and focuses only on the brain.
When looking at perfusion specifically, in best case scenarios the whole-body option is often easier and higher quality. In fact, by perfusing from the heart (central cannulation), cryoprotectants get to all areas of the body and most importantly reach all vessels supplying the brain relatively easily. That is, of course, if there are no blockages formed - for example - by an unhealthy lifestyle, edema or postmortem blood clotting.
In the neuro option, the cannulation ideally involves four arteries. The Circle of Willis, the circulatory system that oxygenates the brain and surrounding structures, is supplied by both internal carotid and vertebral arteries. Cannulating the arteries of the brain (especially the vertebral arteries) is more complex. When the perfusion starts from the heart instead, one inlet and one outlet cannula are enough to cover the whole brain and the rest of the body. In some cases, the full-body method is also used for neuro cases. This practice is called “neuro on whole-body”.
As far as we know, a person's identity depends on factors located within the brain. Perhaps, some secondary information could be found in other parts of the body. With whole-body cryopreservation, we are pretty sure that everything will be preserved.
In this regard, there is an interesting article by Michael B. O’Neal, Ph.D. and Aschwin de Wolf, called “The Case for Whole-Body”. They consider the case of identical twins. Even though they develop from an identical DNA sequence, they are not always identical. Some of the differences can be explained by looking at environmental factors (nutrition, health care). But epigenetic studies offer an additional theory: genes can be switched on and off by environmental and other factors. A person's physical characteristics are not fully determined by DNA alone.
Considering that it will probably be possible to build strong, healthy bodies in the future, losing physical characteristics shouldn't be particularly important. Your future body will be far better than the one you have now. But, citing the article above:
“...what if the details of the central nervous system are not fully specified in the DNA programming?”
For whole-body preservation advocates the answer is simple: if we want to be sure to preserve one’s identity, we should preserve every possible factor that may affect the identity. And this goes beyond the brain alone.
After looking at the pros, what are the actual cons of whole-body cryopreservation?
If anything were to happen to a long-term storage facility, moving whole-body patients to a new location would be harder than moving neuro ones. In fact, several heads at the same time can be placed inside a cooling box and dispatched. For each full cryopreserved patient, however, a human-sized cooling box will be needed.
Cryonics organizations offering whole-body services will have to overcome this possible future issue in two ways. First, they will have to choose a very secure storage location (as EBF in Switzerland). Second, they must have an emergency plan ready that allows a fast relocation of whole-body patients.
In case your chosen provider has a storage facility located in an area where there is a possibility of natural disasters or conflict, you might want to opt for the neuro option.
Whole-body cryopreservation is more expensive compared to the neuro option. If we look at Alcor’s costs as an example, they require a minimum of $200,000 for whole-body cryopreservation. Whereas neuro starts at just $80,000. What are the reasons behind such a significant difference?
First, the procedure itself is more expensive as more cryoprotectant solutions (CPAs) are used to perfuse the body rather than just the head. Transportation, should the body need to be shipped, is also more expensive. Storage is responsible for a large part of this cost gap.
As Steve Bridge, Alcor’s former president, writes in his article “The Neuropreservation Option”:
“...a neuro patient requires one tenth the liquid nitrogen, and one tenth the storage space, of a whole body patient”.
Finally, given the difficulty in moving whole-body patients out of necessity, there will be a need for greater security in the long-term. These factors greatly increase its price - as preservation could go on for several centuries.
Fortunately, the community growth we are slowly witnessing will one day allow for economies of scale and lower prices per capita. One day, cryonics may become affordable for everyone. Even then, it’s likely that the neuro option will still be cheaper.
Even if your body is perfectly preserved, it will probably need a lot of “fixing” before you are revived. In fact, our patients will likely wake up in a healthy and young body. Each one of your aged cells will need to be rejuvenated. All the organs and tissues whose failing caused your death will need to be healed or replaced.
Nevertheless, in general opinion, it seems more admissible to completely fix a body than to recreate it (which is necessary for the neuro option). Tomorrow Bio's ultimate goal is to make cryonics accessible to all, creating a world where people can choose how long they want to live. To do this, the topic of human cryopreservation needs to become mainstream. However, when it comes to cutting off and preserving heads, it's not easy to talk about it openly. Yet, preserving a whole-body seems to be more acceptable.
From a medical point of view, both procedures require that we tackle a series of challenges. We are still far from the day when revival from these two options will be possible. But considering the speed at which medical technology develops, the results may surprise us.
You have probably heard the word “neuro” before. It comes from Greek and means “nerve”, “nervous system”, or, generically, “brain”. Simply put, people who choose neuro cryopreservation will have their brain, inside their severed head, cryopreserved after legal death. The rest of the body is, in most cases, cremated. The general consensus is that your personality, memories, consciousness etc are contained in your brain. If this is true, preserving your head should be enough for future revival. Future medical technology will take care of rebuilding your body - perhaps implementing it with innovative technological prostheses. Or potentially even “uploading” your consciousness to the cloud.
Neuro cryopreservation advocates several advantages of this practice. Let’s have a look at them.
Cryopreserving one part of the body, compared to its whole, does seem like an easier option. A reduced amount of CPAs is needed: since the focus is on the brain, there is no need to perfuse more peripheral parts of the body. Additionally, the attention and effort devoted entirely to the brain may result in a more efficient perfusion. Even though there is no data, that is actually the case. Finally, neuro cryopreservation requires less time both for the perfusion and cooling process.
The use of a smaller amount of CPAs, the fact that the procedure is faster and the reduced long-term storage costs make this procedure significantly cheaper.
Earthquake? Civil war? All you have to do is put a given quantity of neuropatients in a cooling box and send them off.
The neuro option has two main disadvantages. These are the main reasons why some cryonics companies, such as Tomorrow Bio, decided to offer only whole-body cryopreservation.
Who would want to discuss such a “gross” topic over dinner? And how would you convince your loved ones to join you in something like that? Can you imagine asking your parents to have their heads cut off and preserved after their legal death? Although this (very, very, likely) isn’t a medical disadvantage and it may not influence the quality of the procedure, public opinion counts for majorly. Especially in such a unique field where the demand and education around the topic is low. Cutting off heads, quite simply, doesn’t help.
Looking at the various cryopreservation cases of the past, most of the legal problems arose in the case of neuropatients. Obviously, when cryonics becomes an accepted medical technology, legal problems should decrease dramatically. For now, better safe than sorry.
We know that your memories and several other aspects of your identity are contained in the brain. Quoting again Steve Bridge’s article “The Neuropreservation Option”:
“People can have heart and lung transplants and still be the “same person.” Even someone paralyzed from the neck down thinks of himself as having the same identity. On the other hand, someone else who has lost her memory may look like the same person, and we may even use the same name for her; but clearly her identity is missing.”
We know that the human genome encodes all the instructions necessary to build a whole human body. Given these prerogatives, it’s likely that future medical technology will be able to recreate all the organs and tissues that made up your body and personality. There might be some off-chance that having your body preserved is advantageous (e.g. due to unique interaction in the gut-brain connection). But why even take risks when we can preserve the whole body?
Both whole-body and neuro cryopreservation have their advantages and disadvantages. Since we don’t know how revival will work, we can’t say which one is the best option. Each person interested in cryonics should make their own considerations and research.
Price can be a major factor for some. If you are not able to afford whole-body cryopreservation in any way (for example if you can’t be insured and have no substantial savings), then neuro cryopreservation is still a valuable option. There are chances that you will achieve the same outcome for a lower price.
But if you want to play it safe and prefer to have your body with you on this possible journey into the future, check out our pricing page ;)
At Tomorrow Bio we offer an all-inclusive whole-body cryopreservation service. We think this is the safest way to drive growth in the sector.
In any case, we look with interest at research into both methods. Should either one prove to be better for future revival, we would be open to integrating it.