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Second Chance with CryogenicsBy now you’ve probably heard about the movie, Avatar, or you’ve seen its amazing visual effects.

The technology in this sci-fi flick was captivating! One intriguing idea is "cryosleep," where people are put under extremely cold temperatures during long space travel in order to delay aging.

So is cryosleep science fiction or based on real science? If you ask people at Alcor Life Extension Foundation or the Cryonics Institution —– they’ll tell you, it’s real. These companies cryogenically preserve the bodies of their customers so that one day they may be revived.

Cryonics is using very cold temperatures, under negative 238-degrees Fahrenheit, to preserve the human body. The hope is that future advances in technologies can revive them and cure them of current untreatable diseases.

Interested? Well, first you must be pronounced legally dead.

Then, you must be processed quickly to avoid decomposition. That’s done by internally cooling the body using cryoprotectants.

Like the anti-freeze in your car, cryoprotectants prevent ice formation so that your tissues and cell structures aren’t damaged. Then the body goes into a thermos like container where liquid nitrogen maintains temperatures. Using nitrogen bypasses the dependence on electricity to cool the body.

So far, reviving people is still a problem. But, some scientists predict progress in areas like nanotechnology will make it possible to rebuild preserved tissues with the main focus on restoring the brain.

Already studies with animal brains that were frozen to cryogenic temperatures and then revived showed normal brain wave activity.

It may take centuries for cryonics to become reality, if it happens at all.

What’s certain is: as the boundaries between Sci-Fi and current medical technologies continue to blur, we’ll have to keep changing our ideas about what’s possible.


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For more information…

Cryoethics: seeking life after death
Ethics discussion of the implications of cryogeneics.
"Cryonic suspension is a relatively new technology that offers those who can afford it the chance to be 'frozen' for future revival when they reach the ends of their lives. This paper will examine the ethical status of this technology and whether its use can be justified. Among the arguments against using this technology are: it is 'against nature', and would change the very concept of death."
D. Shaw. Bioethics. 2009 Nov;23(9):515-21.

Scientific justification of cryonics practice.
Discussion of the validity of current scientific processes used for cryogenics.
"Very low temperatures create conditions that can preserve tissue for centuries, possibly including the neurological basis of the human mind. Through a process called vitrification, brain tissue can be cooled to cryogenic temperatures without ice formation. Damage associated with this process is theoretically reversible in the same sense that rejuvenation is theoretically possible by specific foreseeable technology."
Best BP. Rejuvenation Res. 2008 Apr;11(2):493-503.

First paper showing recovery of brain electrical activity after freezing to -20°C.
Scientific paper in the respected journal Nature showing early promising recovery of physiological function after ultracold freezing.
Suda I, Kito K, Adachi C, in: Nature (1966, vol. 212), "Viability of long term frozen cat brain in vitro," pg. 268-270.


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