You’ve likely heard the urban legend that after Walt Disney died he had his body frozen so one day it could be revived. Cryopreservation is a concept that has fascinated scientists for a long time now, but in today’s advanced landscape cryo-technology is getting closer and closer to reality. At least, a recent report by Newsweek would seem to suggest so. In an exciting development for scientists around the world, the first successful experiment with cryopreservation seems to have actually paid off. Specifically, a rabbit brain was reportedly preserved in “near perfect” condition. So, what does this mean for the future?
Up until recently, the biggest problem with cryopreservation was that the brain could simply not maintain its functioning after being exposed to such extreme cold. Neurons would die off and synapses would collapse, leaving a preserved, but worthless brain behind. Naturally, this would have little value if it could not be changed, which is many scientists have been searching for an alternative way to obtain successful cyropreservation.
In 2010, the Brain Preservation Foundation (BPF) offered a Small Mammal Prize valued at $26,735 to any lab that could successfully preserve a mouse (or similarly-size) brain while keeping the neurons and synapses intact. Among those who accepted the challenge, Greg Fahy over at 21st Century Medicine (21CM) decided that a cryobiological approach was the best way to go. A study in the Cyrobiology journal outlined the process they used to help get their results.
Named the Aldehyde-Stabilized Cyropreservation (ASC) method, 21CM started by focusing on the vascular system of the brain. They poured glutaraldehyde into this system to stabilize the tissue and prevent metabolic decay. Next, they used sodium dodecyl sulfate (a common lab detergent) to work with the cryoprotectant to penetrate the brain without causing any shrinkage. After the infusion, the brain was pumped with 65 percent ethylene glycol and cooled to negative 211 degrees Fahrenheit.
Despite the freezing, which would normally destroy synapses and neurons, and damage the structure of the brain, scientists were able to look at the results under an electron microscope afterwards. After being sliced open for viewing, it appeared that all of the essential functions remained intact, which meant they had succeeded.
Though the principles of the brain might be similar between all mammals, the truth is human trials are likely to be a long way off. Of course, many believe that this latest discovery might work to spark a greater attention on cryogenics and therefore lead to even more profound results down the road. At the very least, it does show that cryopreservation is actually possible, something that was still disputed prior to this year.
Hopefully, 21CM can get more than their initial prize to fund future research into this development and work on ways to improve the process. The next step is likely a longer-term test, but in the meantime they might also seek out larger, more complicated brains to see if the process could work the same.