Cryonics Essay, Research Paper
As we enter a new millennium we are also making vast technological improvements. In the field of medicine in particular, there is cause for great optimism. There has never been more power to restore, maintain and extend health. However there is something even bigger approaching, cryonics. Many people think of cryonics as some futuristic , science fiction process that would only be possible in the movies. However the idea of cryonics isn t really that unreal. There are many groups and scientists working on cryonics and this amazing process could become possible in the near future.
Cryonics is a process that involves freezing a patient and maintaining them in a suspended state. During this state no cellular functioning or cellular decay is present. Patients are put into this state when their bodies become damaged through injuries, aging, or disease. Scientists are formulating a process to remove the patients from this state when cures for their damaged bodies have been found. At the present time many people have been put into a cryogenically frozen state but none have been revived from this state (Rhoades).
The first procedure for cryonic freezing was proposed in 1962 by Robert Ettinger a professor of physics at Highland Park College in Michigan. He came up with the idea of using liquid nitrogen to freeze patients in the hopes that one day it would be possible to restore them and repair what was wrong with them. This was the beginning of the cryonics movement. A current popular method is the fixation and vitrafication method. Biologists bind tissue using a glutaraldehyde solution. The glutaraldehyde molecule bounces around inside the cell until in connects with a protein. Then another protein connects with the other side of the glutaraldehyde molecule. This process preserves cells and the structures within them. The next step is that the water in the cells is replaced by chemicals, such as propylene glycol, ethylene glycol and dimethyl sulfoxide. These substances don t freeze like water does. In a process known as vitrification these chemicals protect cells from freeze damage in much the same way antifreeze protects an automobile engine from damage by freezing water. If enough of the cells water is replaced then cooling doesn t cause freezing, it just causes the protectant solution to become more and more viscous, going from a liquid that resembles thin syrup in its consistency to one that resembles hot tar, to one that resembles cold tar, to one as resistant to flow as a glass (Drexler, 1986).
Although no adult human being has ever been revived from the state of cryogenic freezing, many scientists believe that not only is it possible but it will be done in the near future. They base their beliefs on up and coming studies on nanotechnology.
The agricultural revolution took centuries. The industrial revolution took decades. Molecular nanotechnology will change human civilization more than the agricultural or industrial revolution. The revolution of molecular nanotechnology, though, will only take a few months — or, at most, a few years (Emanuelson, 1991-1999). What is nanotechnology? Nanotechnology is a scientific study designed around the idea that every structure consistent with the laws of chemistry and physics can be built. Nobel Prize winner in physics Richard Feynman said, The principles of physics, as far as I can see, do not speak against the possibility of maneuvering things atom by atom. Many believe that within ten years scientists will have likely learned how to piece together atoms and molecules on at a time using a Scanning Tunneling Microscope. The molecular machinery in our bodies maintains our lives by handling molecules at the molecular level. A molecular machine is a large molecule that manipulates other molecules, one at a time. Every time we eat we are putting random molecules into our bodies; but these molecules are useless if our bodies could not sort through them, organize them and transport them to the part of the body where they are needed in the right way. We are also putting molecules in our body when we take medicine. Once again we depend on our bodies to sort, and transport them. When we take a medicine, all we can do with today’s technology is to inject it into our bloodstream or swallow it, and hope that the body will transport and use the substances properly. During surgery, even the most precise microsurgery, the surgeon’s scalpel slices through thousands of cells — moving trillions of molecules out of their proper positions. From the cells point of view surgery is not delicate at all, but very crude and damaging. The molecular machinery of the body has to repair all these cells after the surgeon is complete (Emanuelson, 1991-1999).
Imagine if humans could control all of these molecular processes. This is what nanothechnology is all about. If we could develop tiny micro machines that continuously and efficiently maintain the molecules of our bodies, assisting the natural molecular machinery in our bodies, we would never get sick. These machines would also rid the body of foreign molecules such as viruses and bacteria. Our body s immune system is slow but if we could back it up with reinforcements we could help it fight off these enemies. If our natural antibodies were augmented by artificial antibodies made of carbon-fiber composites and guided by virus-sized computers more powerful than today’s supercomputers, no intruder would have a chance of infecting us. (Emanuelson, 1991-1999). Some scientists believe that within the next thirty years aging damage and all natural causes of death can be eliminated. This can be done by making artificial molecular machines that continuously check our cells for damage, and our DNA for mutations, and make the proper repairs. The cell repair machines of molecular nanotechnology will not only prevent the natural causes of death, but most death by trauma as well. Artificial molecular machines can perform repairs far faster than the natural healing process. If an injury is so severe that it overwhelms the artificial healing process, the molecular machines can place the body into biostasis, halting all further damage until more help arrives (Emanuelson, 1991-1999).
There are many more forms of life other than humans. Imagine the agricultural possibilities. An apple tree contains intricate molecular machinery that rearranges the molecules in dirt, water and air into an apple. Artificial molecular machines developed in the next few decades will be able to do the same thing an apple tree does, but much more efficiently. Some scientist envision a tabletop machine in which they can pour some dirt and water into and instruct the machine to make whatever fruit or vegetable they select. The finished product will be available, fully ripened, within the hour. Imagine the possibilities for fertilizers and pest control. You could have the perfect yard without spraying on chemicals. The nanotechnology revolution could arrive within the next 15 years. With the use of nanotechnology a frozen cryonics patient would easily be able to have their cells repaired from frostbite. Whatever disease the patient was afflicted with could also be cured (Emanuelson, 1991-1999).
Many animals have already been put through a process very similar to being cryogenically frozen. For example in 1992, BioTime Inc. successfully revived a baboon. BioTime replaced the baboon s blood with their blood-substitute solution, then the baboon s deep body temperature was lowered to near freezing. The animal was anesthetized, immersed in ice and cooled to below 2 degrees Celsius, using the BioTime solution with cardiopulmonary bypass procedures. After being bloodless and below 10 degrees Centigrade for 55 minutes, the animal was re-warmed and revived. BioTime still plans to do more experimentation on primates and their blood-substitute solution. The baboon is still being studied in order to if there are any long-term physical side effects (Freeman, 1998). Many people have kept dogs cold for hours then brought them back to life. The first cryonics organization to do so was Alcor, in the mid 1980’s. A German Shepherd dog named Dixie under went a cryogenic experiment in which all its blood was drained out and replaced with a synthetic solution. The dog was then cooled to 4 degrees Celsius. The German Shepherd s vital signs signaled that the dog was dead. It was cold and stiff, eyes flattened out, the heart did not beat, and the brain waves had stopped. The dog stayed in this state for four hours. The German Shepard s blood was then put back into its body. They warmed it up and restored it to life. Alcor performed several variations of this experiment with different blood substitutes and temperatures. Gerry Arthus, Alcor New York’s Coordinator, has performed an experiment using nematodes (tiny worms), which shows that memories will survive cryonic suspension. In this experiment Gerry used Caenorhabditis elegans, a nematode, which is one of the simplest living creatures. It has a complete nervous system, however, and can be trained in a rudimentary way. Worms that are raised in a warm environment will chose a warm environment over a cold environment later on in their life. Likewise, worms that were raised in a cooler environment will choose a cold environment over a warm environment. Gerry placed a small number of worms in a cryoprotective solution and froze them to -80 degrees Celsius for two hours. After the worms were revived from their frozen state they remember the environment that they preferred before the cryogenic freezing. This is the world’s first experiment that verifies that memory is chemically encoded and will survive the freezing process. The sample that Gerry used is too small to prove anything conclusively. Gerry plans to repeat the experiment with a large sample of Caenorhabditis elegans. He also intends to devise tests to eliminate the possibility that the worms changed physiologically to adapt themselves to warmer or cooler environments. I. Suda and A.C. Kito reported an experiment in which cat brains produced normal looking brain waves after being frozen. The cat brains were perused with 15% glycerol and cooled to -20 C for five days. Then the cat brains were warmed up and the glycerol was replaced with normal blood. The cat brains showed normal brain function when they were measured with an EEG. The technology has improved considerably since this experiment was performed so better results could probably be achieved using modern day equipment, if it was repeated.
There are have also been many experiments in which humans or human embryos have been put through situations similar to those involved in cryonics. The first human being to successfully emerge from cryonic suspension is John Brooks. He was removed from his mother’s womb and suspended in liquid nitrogen for two months. After he was thawed out, he was placed in his mother’s womb again, and was born eleven months after being conceived. Thousands of embryos have been successfully frozen since then. There was a case in which a human embryo was frozen at liquid nitrogen temperature for seven years, and then brought to term, and is now a healthy young child. The process of reviving a cryogenically frozen adult human is very similar to that of an embryo, in principle (Ettinger, 1998).
There have also been cases where humans have survived accidental freezing. One recent case of interest involved a young toddler in Edmonton. She had wondered out of the house, dressed in only a diaper, into temperatures of negative twenty-four degrees Celsius. The 13-month-old toddler was outside for several hours before she was found and brought to the hospital, where she was found to have no vital signs. To the amazement of her doctors she recovered with no apparent damage. This child was able to recover from being frozen solid , (in the words of a police officer on the scene) (Herald Sun, 2001).
Many people believe that cryonic suspension is only for the rich. However there are now ways that allow a large majority of people to afford cryonics suspension. The average cost is around $75,000 which can be paid using a $200 a year life insurance policy, plus an addition $300 a year for cryonic first aid service. Cryonics Institute offers the cheapest services for $28,000, which can be paid with a $100 per year life insurance policy (Kluytmans, 1997). The four main providers of cryonic suspension are Alcor Life Extension Foundation, CryoCare Foundation, Cryonics Institute, and American Cryonics Society.
Aging, illness, and death, three of mankind s primary sources of pain and sorrow, may be all but eradicated. What we will do when that happens and how it will change us remain to be seen. Certainly, the more prepared and expectant we are, the better we can expect things to go (Rodriguez, 2001).