Understanding Cryonics: Part 2 – Vitrification & Storage

Article first published at Technorati.com

In part 1 of ‘Understanding Cryonics’, we took a brief look at the science and technology behind freezing the recently dead with the hope of reviving them at a future time. As I learned while researching this piece, and as I hope you gathered as well, the theory of it does hold some logical promise. At first, I was especially resistant to the concept of people signing up to be decapitated immediately after death and having only their heads preserved until cloning becomes as commonplace as open heart surgery. But, after pondering it for a bit, this method of preservation actually began to make even more sense to me then whole body suspension. I mean, why go through all of that, wait to have cancer cured, only to come back into a 70-year-old body that’s likely to have something else go fatally wrong with it at any time? So I rationalized that at least until I could be cloned into a younger, healthy, vibrant body, why bother coming back at all? And if it never happens, oh well, I mean I’m already dead, right? So what if it takes a few more years in limbo to be able to come back with a full life to look forward to, instead of just buying a few more years?

Alcor Life Extension Foundation
Alcor Life Extension Foundation public relations manager Paula Lemler looks over storage units which contain liquid hydrogen at the cryogenics lab in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Tom Hood)

The term vitrification means many things to many different schools of science (I know, I Googled it). For the purposes of cryonics, vitrification means simply the process of preparing a subject to withstand temperatures as low as -130 degrees Celsius (-202 F) and to prevent the formation of ice crystals in a suspended body at those temperatures. Most commonly used today is a glycerol-based solvent which is inserted into the subject body to replace the water which would freeze when flash frozen and destroy tissue, cells and organs, making the subject body unrecoverable. The downside is, this glycerol-based solvent does not work in preserving complete organs. There is a company, however who has revolutionized a proprietary cocktail which has already been successful in vitrifying a rabbit kidney, cry suspending that kidney to -135C, rewarming it, and transplanting it into a healthy rabbit. That rabbit lives on and is quite healthy to this day.

So what exactly happens to a cryo-subject once their heart stops? I thought you’d never ask! An emergency response team of skilled cryo technicians from whichever cryo facility the subject signed on with rushes to the recently deceased and begins the preliminary vitrification process. At this stage, they maintain oxygen and blood flow through the body (simulating life support) until the body can be brought to the cryo facility for complete vitrification. The body is packed in ice and injected with large doses of heparin (an anticoagulant) which prevents the blood from clotting while in transport. A team of skilled cry biologists is waiting once the team arrives at the facility with the new subject and they commence the complete vitrification process, preparing the body for storage.

The vitrification procedure takes about four hours as all of the water is delicately removed from the subject body and replaced with glycerol-based cryoprotectant. Once that process is complete, the body is cooled on a bed of dry ice until it’s core temperature reaches a balmy -130C (-202 F), thereby completing the vitrification process. Next, the subject (either whole body, or just the head) are placed into an individual container which is then lowered into a bigger stainless steel tank upside down, Bodies are placed in the cryo tanks upside down in the even the tank leaks, the brain will remain protected longest.

Neurosuspension clients are simply set to rest at the very bottom of the tanks, which hare filled with liquid nitrogen at a temperature of about -196 C (-320 F) for long-term storage and preservation. Additional liquid nitrogen is occasionally added to replace the minute quantities that are lost due to evaporation. Each of the large Stainless steel tanks is capable of supporting 4 whole-body suspension subjects, and 6 neurosuspension subjects simultaneously.

As you might have imagined by now, subscribing to a cryo facility isn’t a cheap undertaking. Some facilities used to charge a monthly fee of about $400, but over time, family members die, or forget, or estates and trusts dry up, leaving the facility to hold the bag for the rest of…well…for a very long time. As a result, most facilities now charge a flat rate of around $200,000 for a whole body suspension and about $50,000 to preserve only the head and brain. A $500 annual membership is also required during the life of the subject at many such facilities to offset administrative costs associated with being ready for the subject’s legal death. Additional fees are also incurred depending on where the subject is at the time of legal death, and how far the emergency response team needs to travel to retrieve the body and transport it to the storage facility.

Hopefully, we all now have a better understanding of the vitrification and storage processes that go into the two types of cryosuspensions, as well as a general idea of the fees that are involved for anyone who is interested in being preserved. In segment 3 of this series, we will explore the inner workings of some of the more notable cryo-storage facilities in The United States. For you bean counters out there who just must always be crunching the numbers, we will also endeavor to ascertain how much time, effort and expense that goes into the daily operation of such a facility, despite the fact that the residents aren’t exactly screaming for extra blankets or a fresh bedpan.

About the author..

Dorian Lassiter
Dorian Lassiter is the author of numerous articles, short stories and suspense novels. He is the divorced, 39-year-old father of 3, and…

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