Rabbit Brain Preservation

The Small Mammal Brain Preservation Prize Has Been Won

The Brain Preservation Foundation (BPF) announced that the Small Mammal Brain Preservation Prize has officially been won. The spectacular result achieved by 21st Century Medicine researchers provides the first demonstration that near-perfect, long-term structural preservation of an intact mammalian brain is achievable.

A team from 21st Century Medicine, spearheaded by recent MIT graduate Robert McIntyre, has discovered a way to preserve the delicate neural circuits of an intact rabbit brain for very long-term storage using a combination of chemical fixation and cryogenic cooling. Proof of this accomplishment, and the full “Aldehyde-Stabilized Cryopreservation” (ASC) protocol, was recently published in the journal Cryobiology and has been independently verified by the BPF through extensive electron microscopic examination conducted by the two official judges of the prize: BPF President Ken Hayworth and Princeton neuroscience professor Sebastian Seung, author of “Connectome: How the Brain’s Wiring Makes Us Who We Are.”

“Every neuron and synapse looks beautifully preserved across the entire brain,” said Hayworth. “Simply amazing given that I held in my hand this very same brain when it was frozen solid… This is not your father’s cryonics.”

The key breakthrough was the quick perfusion of a deadly chemical fixative (glutaraldehyde) through the brain’s vascular system, rapidly stopping metabolic decay and fixing proteins in place by covalent crosslinks. This stabilized the tissue and, along with other chemicals, enabled cryoprotectants to be perfused at an optimal temperature and rate. The result was an intact rabbit brain filled with such a high concentration of cryoprotectants that it could be stored as a solid “vitrified” block at a temperature of -135 degrees Celsius.

A BPF spokesman emphasized that a mouse brain entry submitted by Max Planck researcher Shawn Mikula also came extremely close to meeting the prize requirements. Dr. Mikula’s laboratory is attempting to perfect not only brain preservation (using a different method based on chemical fixation and plastic embedding) but whole brain electron microscopic imaging as well.

The BPF will now focus on the final Large Mammal phase of the contest, which requires an intact pig brain to be preserved with similar fidelity in a manner that could be adapted to human patients. The 21st Century Medicine team has recently submitted to the BPF such a preserved pig brain for official evaluation. Lead researcher Robert McIntyre has started Nectome to further develop this method.

Preserving the “connectome,” the delicate pattern of neural connections that encodes a person’s memory and identity, could someday in the future permit nanometer-scale scanning of a preserved brain for mind uploading. As I wrote shortly after the first announcement of the Brain Preservation Prize in 2010, brain preservation methods optimized for future nanoscale scanning and mind uploading – “cryonics for uploaders” – could be a good alternative to traditional cryonics for those who consider mind uploading as a viable form of identity preservation.

A surprisingly open-minded Scientific American article by Michael Shermer, the publisher of Skeptic, titled “Can Our Minds Live Forever?,” features Ken Hayworth, Robert McIntyre, and 21st Century Medicine’s chief research scientist Gregory M. Fahy.

“We are destined to eventually replace our biological bodies and minds with optimally designed synthetic ones. And the result will be a far healthier, smarter and happier race of posthumans poised to explore and colonize the universe,” Hayworth told Shermer, who commented “It sounds utopian, but there’s something deeply moving in this meliorism” and concluded “Per audacia ad astra.”

Hayworth admitted that a “future of uploaded posthumans is probably centuries away.” Nevertheless, he added, “I am virtually certain that mind uploading is possible.”

“Once cut into ultrathin slices, [Hayworth’s] brain will be imaged and analyzed to find his connectome,” imagines Seung in the “Connectome” book. “The information will be used to create a computer simulation of Hayworth, one that thinks and feels like the real thing.”

“Personally, I think that a sufficiently accurate brain simulation would be conscious,” Seung adds.

Hundreds of neuroscience papers have detailed how memory and personality are encoded structurally in synaptic connections, and recent advances in connectome imaging and brain simulation can be seen as a preview of the synthetic revival technologies to come. Five years after the launch of the Brain Preservation Prize, the newly perfected ASC technique has been able to demonstrate (to the BPF’s satisfaction) preservation of the connectome.

“The Prize was awarded on the basis of the company’s ability to almost perfectly preserve the ultrastructure of a whole rabbit brain after cooling to and rewarming from a temperature below the glass transition temperature of the vitrified brain,” reads a special announcement from 21st Century Medicine (21CM). The company mentions revival by uploading or “by means of biological repairs carried out with future tools from the field of medical nanotechnology” among the possible applications of ASC technology, but takes due distance for plausible deniability. “While 21CM firmly believes in personal choice and respects the views of all honest people, we are not a cryonics company and as such do not endorse any form of cryonics,” reads the conclusion of the announcement.


Top image: Robert McIntyre taking rabbit brain out of -135oC freezer unit after overnight storage. Brain and block of CPA is completely solid. (Photographed and witnessed by Kenneth Hayworth.)

  • magnus

    Very interesting news.
    I don’t interpret it as a solution for all of us living now, but I believe it will have an impact, hopefully in regard of the laws. In sweden, cryopreservation is not allowed, at least not a year ago when I checked it up.
    It will surely have the impact that our goals now seem a little more achievable.
    What’s the situation in other countries?
    Making cryonics legal in sweden might be a concrete goal. But, the lutheran pc heritage lies upon us and it won’t be a trivial task.
    When I can breath again I will try to finish my little declaration and make a list of goals, something to introduce in small steps, if necessary. These goals could be formulated in a common masonary style so that the adept finaly makes the conclusion him/herself. And some “acceptable” goals is to promote health, security and science. A very nursery starting point…Then there could be a dosis of space_neardism, and some escatological themes, before finally reaching a will to join the cosmistic plan. And, considering existential threats, I would include some survivalsm/prepper_spirit into the Ordo Terminalis.
    About symbols I think it is not that simple to use local ones, cos they are partly hijacked, even if i like them. But they are important.
    Could a physical chain-letter be one starting point?

    Well, at least it will be exiting to try it out. Learning by doing and never never never give up.
    Well,

    • David Román

      You know Sweden better than I do, but I worry that it may be other religious constituencies (rather than Lutherans) who object to cryonics down the road. In Spain, definitely, it won’t be Catholics (assuming they still exist) who will stand on the way of cryonics. Chances are it would be a lack of money.

      • magnus

        Hello David,
        I agree with you that a lack of money will be a big problem, but I also fear that all the “”correct ones”” will have to much influence for a long time about where the resources shall go.
        I often noticed a kind of limitation among the lutheranians I know when it comes to speculative discussions. “Man shouldn t these or that. Man should work, trust the holy words and die”. No broad vision.
        And looking at the philosophical production up here, compared with central Europe,
        there is a difference.
        The transhumanism up here did split up and the energy dissipated to the pirat party, feminism and ecologism. What we have are a few biohackers and that alike.That s why I consider to start a kind of second foundation, cosmism in a masonary style.
        A campaign like Istvans is probably much harder here.

        Regards

  • Giulio Prisco

    Updates:

    1. I asked Ken: “If the positive results will be confirmed by the large mammal prize, a new “cryonics for uploaders” option for human patients could be ready after some more work. What role will the Brain Preservation Foundation play? Are you discussing with Alcor, the Cryonics Institute, and/or new cryonic providers? What can we expect? What could be the timeline?

    I think Ken received lots of similar questions. He says: “many people have recently asked me ‘Should cryonics service organizations immediately start offering this new ASC procedure to their ‘patients’?’ My personal answer (speaking for myself, not on behalf of the BPF) has been a steadfast NO. More in Ken’s thoughtful blog post titled “Opinion: The prize win is a vindication of the idea of cryonics, not of unaccountable cryonics service organizations”:
    http://www.brainpreservation.org/opinion-the-prize-win-is-a-vindication-of-the-idea-of-cryonics-not-of-unaccountable-cryonics-service-organizations/
    I will write down my comments to Ken’s post.

    2. The next Turing Church meeting in Second Life on Sunday Feb. 14 will be dedicated to discussing the Brain Preservation news. See here for time and access coordinates:
    http://turingchurch.com/second-life/

    3. Half an hour ago I had a very sad reminder of the urgency of developments (scientific, technical, operational, legal…) in cryonics. A relatively young man, a cryonic activist and a friend, died suddenly. His local friends are fighting against the clock to help achieving his dream of being cryonically preserved. More later.

  • Giulio Prisco

    This is my comment to Ken Hayworth’s post:
    “Opinion: The prize win is a vindication of the idea of cryonics, not of unaccountable cryonics service organizations”
    http://www.brainpreservation.org/opinion-the-prize-win-is-a-vindication-of-the-idea-of-cryonics-not-of-unaccountable-cryonics-service-organizations/#comment-319

    —-

    Ken, congratulations to the Brain Preservation Foundation and 21st Century Medicine, and also to the Max Planck team, for this spectacular result. As you say, “The fact that the ASC procedure has won the brain preservation prize should rightly be seen as a vindication of the central idea of cryonics – the brain’s delicate circuitry underlying memory and personality CAN in fact be preserved indefinitely, potentially serving as a lifesaving bridge to future revival technologies.” I have no doubts that upcoming advances, based on or inspired by the scientific work done for the Brain Preservation Prize, will someday permit establishing operational “cryonics for uploaders” procedures for human patients, based on solid science.

    As a scientist, I totally agree that the cautious step by step approach that you recommend is the scientifically correct approach, and I see the danger that “A rush to human application may sound humanitarian, but I believe it will only result in further delaying the eventual, inevitable embracing of cryonics (and other methods of brain preservation) by mainstream science and medicine.”

    But as a person I can’t ignore the fact that we are talking of human beings here. For terminal patients with a short life expectancy, even a remote chance is better than no chance. Even more to the point: a relatively young cryonics activist, a friend of mine, died suddenly only a few hours ago. His local friends are fighting against the clock to realize his cryonic preservation dream. I have no power to choose what to do with his brain. But if I had such power, I would choose the best of the available options, even if it doesn’t fully persuade the scientist in me. Why? Because it’s what HE wanted (and I guess I would want the same), doesn’t harm anyone else, and of course it’s no risk to him since the only alternative is permanent death.

    I would choose the best of the available options, because I can’t choose the best of the unavailable option. But if a new option, scientifically more solid than those currently on the table, were available, I would choose that.

    I am not recommending that the BPF should rush to human applications or short circuit the entire scientific process. Actually, as a BPF advisor, I think yours should be the official position of the BPF. But at the same time I would welcome more adventurous initiatives by other parties, including the existing cryonics organizations, to provide last-chance options to human patients with nothing to lose.

    This is essentially equivalent to the issue of clinical trials and lengthy approval processes for new drugs. I think having reputable scientific organizations and official bodies than insist on scientifically rigorous tests of proposed new therapies before making such therapies available to the public at large is good, but at the same time I think the availability of last-chance, not-(yet)-mainstream options to terminal patients, perhaps administered in borderline clinics in unregulated jurisdictions, is also good. Let thousands flowers bloom.

  • Giulio Prisco

    The next Turing Church meeting in Second Life on Sunday, February 14,
    will feature a discussion of the recent Brain Preservation Foundation
    announcement: the Small Mammal Brain Preservation Prize has officially
    been won. The spectacular result achieved by 21st Century Medicine
    researchers provides the first demonstration that near-perfect,
    long-term structural preservation of an intact mammalian brain is
    achievable…
    http://turingchurch.com/2016/02/10/cryonics-for-uploaders-brain-preservation-discussion-in-second-life-february-14/

  • natasha vitamore

    I look foward to exploring my recent research on memory and cryonics at this event. You can read my paper on the small simple animal’s long term memory in tact after cryopreservation / vitrification. “Persistence of Long-Term Memory in Vitrified and Revived Caenorhabditis elegans”. Here is a link: http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/rej.2014.1636 It is also mentioned din MIT Technology Review, and other periodicles. The Abstract is below for your convenience:

    Can memory be retained after cryopreservation? Our research has attempted to answer this long-standing question by using the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans, a well-known model organism for biological research that has generated revolutionary findings but has not been tested for memory retention after cryopreservation. Our study’s goal was to test C. elegans’ memory recall after vitrification and reviving. Using a method of sensory imprinting in the young C. elegans, we establish that learning acquired through olfactory cues shapes the animal’s behavior and the learning is retained at the adult stage after vitrification. Our research method included olfactory imprinting with the chemical benzaldehyde (C6H5CHO) for phase-sense olfactory imprinting at the L1 stage, the fast-cooling SafeSpeed method for vitrification at the L2 stage, reviving, and a chemotaxis assay for testing memory retention of learning at the adult stage. Our results in testing memory retention after cryopreservation show that the mechanisms that regulate the odorant imprinting (a form of long-term memory) in C. elegans have not been modified by the process of vitrification or by slow freezing.

    • Giulio Prisco

      Hi Natasha, thanks for the link. I remember your awesome presentation of the research in Salt Lake City a couple of years ago. I think your results and the BPF results complement each other.

      The BPF evaluation shows that the neural circuitry, the connectome, can be preserved at the scale relevant for memory in a large and complex brain, and your research shows that memories are actually still there after revival in a small and simple brain.

      I look forward to seeing you in Second Life later today:
      http://turingchurch.com/2016/02/10/cryonics-for-uploaders-brain-preservation-discussion-in-second-life-february-14/

  • Stephan BEAUREGARD

    Hi All ! 92% of the tests that are done on animals are cruel, expansive and aren’t transposable to humans, so the question is, why always continue in this direction ? NOT TRANSPOSABLE, I hope people here will understand that what mean. If they had used a real human brain, it would have been better & more appropriated ! We aren’t a rabbit, a mice or a worm. So, I think it will be great to STOP to use defenseless animals like 21st Century Medicine used in this case. After testing on the animals, what we do ? … it will anyway be tested on humans after, so why do we waste time with animals ? BTW, several unclaimed bodies are everywhere in several morgues. Several bodies around the world and in North America are donated to science. So the solution is much simpler than many persons thought. Again, test on rabbits, pigs and other animals are not reliable & not ethical. A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity ; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. I am optimist !! Well, 17,500 people donate their bodies to science each year in the US. Most of them are donated to universities and are used for anatomical study (Brain, heart … ) at medical schools, or for surgical practice at medical conferences. In 2004, another example, more than 225 people donated their bodies to Minnesota medical schools. So it is possible to do good science without using defenceless animals. Other great examples, thousands of health professionals, emergency providers, funeral directors, and biomedical device engineers and others receive training and education through the use of anatomical donations. Again, animal tests, after all, are expensive, increasingly controversial, and often don’t predict how humans will react to a compound. Many new technologies are also available in 2016. According to Ingber, the organs-on-the-chips will also allow researchers to observe the mechanism of many diseases & drugs. To conclude, this is my personal opinion and the position of more & more new scientists around the world. Best Regards, Respectfully. ;)

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mo25w

  • Stephan BEAUREGARD

    Hi All ! 92% of the tests that are done on animals are cruel, expansive and aren’t transposable to humans, so the question is, why always continue in this direction ? NOT TRANSPOSABLE, I hope people here will understand that what mean. If they had used a real human brain, it would have been better & more appropriated ! We aren’t a rabbit, a mice or a worm. So, I think it will be great to STOP to use defenseless animals like 21st Century Medicine used in this case. After testing on the animals, what we do ? … it will anyway be tested on humans after, so why do we waste time with animals ? BTW, several unclaimed bodies are everywhere in several morgues. Several bodies around the world and in North America are donated to science. So the solution is much simpler than many persons thought. Again, test on rabbits, pigs and other animals are not reliable & not ethical. A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity ; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. I am optimist !! Well, 17,500 people donate their bodies to science each year in the US. Most of them are donated to universities and are used for anatomical study (Brain, heart … ) at medical schools, or for surgical practice at medical conferences. In 2004, another example, more than 225 people donated their bodies to Minnesota medical schools. So it is possible to do good science without using defenceless animals. Other great examples, thousands of health professionals, emergency providers, funeral directors, and biomedical device engineers and others receive training and education through the use of anatomical donations. Again, animal tests, after all, are expensive, increasingly controversial, and often don’t predict how humans will react to a compound. Many new technologies are also available in 2016. According to Ingber, the organs-on-the-chips will also allow researchers to observe the mechanism of many diseases & drugs. To conclude, this is my personal opinion and the position of more & more new scientists around the world. Best Regards, Respectfully. ;)

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mo25wUKNySg