Frozen rabbit brain brought back in ‘near perfect’ condition in cryonics breakthrough
The procedure has brought scientists a step closer to fulfilling the sci-fi goal of living forever by resurrecting the frozen dead or installing the human brain into a robot.
Researchers from 21st Century Medicine (21CM) used a new technique, called Aldehyde-stabilized cryopreservation, which protects brain matter associated with learning and memory.
The vascular system of the rabbit brain was filled with chemicals that allowed it to be cooled to negative 211 degrees Fahrenheit (-135 degrees Celsius). This rapidly stopped metabolic decay and fixed the proteins in place.
When the brain was later rewarmed and the cryoprotectant removed, the cell membranes, synapses, and intracellular structures remained intact.
This is being seen as a major development, since the current method of freezing a human brain can cause massive dehydration and crushed neural connections – essentially, too much damage for resuscitation.
“Not your father’s cryonics”
The results come five years after the Brain Preservation Foundation (BPF) presented the challenge to the cryonics research community. The 21CM research team, led by MIT graduate Robert McIntyre, received the Small Mammal Brain Preservation Prize, worth $26,735.
The judges used traditional electron microscopy to image hundreds of brain regions to ensure that the synaptic connections in the rabbit brain remained undamaged.
“Every neuron and synapse looks beautifully preserved across the entire brain. Simply amazing given that I held in my hand this very same brain when it was vitrified glassy solid,” said BPF president Dr. Kenneth Hayworth. “This is not your father’s cryonics.”
The full research paper, titled ‘Aldehyde-stabilized cryopreservation’, is published in the journal Cryobiology.
“This is a big deal,” BPF co-founder John Smart told Motherboard. “It’s the first time that we have a procedure that can protect everything neuroscientists think is involved with learning and memory. Given the results announced today, it seems to me that long-term memories are successfully preserved by this technique. This is not yet certain or universally agreed, but seems highly likely from my position.”
The development has given hope to the possibility of revival from human cryopreservation and there are already willing guinea pigs eager to replicate Mel Gibson’s role in Forever Young.
Fear not, however, it’s still some time off before the plot of an Austin Powers movie is even a slight possibility.
The next step is to preserve a large mammal. 21CM has already submitted a preserved pig brain for evaluation for this research. Lead researcher McIntyre plans develop this further with his new company Nectome, while 21CM returns to their research on reversible brain cryopreservation.
Success would confirm they have discovered a brain preservation technique which preserves memory.