Sunday, 10 November 2013

Have Scientists Discovered the Secret of Immortality?

by Siena Hocking and Rosie Bell

There have been many advances in science these days. Known scientists are exploring the possibilities of freezing a human to preserve them for future reanimation. Around a decade ago this was deemed an idea only for science-fiction films; however, through the advances in science this has almost become a reality.

When the patient is considered terminally ill, a cryopreservation team will wait nearby for a doctor to pronounce them dead. A machine will then be used to keep blood pumping whilst the body is cooled and the blood stream is infused with preservatives and anti-freeze to protect the tissue.

Bostrom and Sandberg have chosen the Alcor Life Extension Foundation based in Scottsdale, Arizona as the location for their frozen bodies to be kept. The company already has 974 members and 117 patients in cryopreservation, along with 33 pets. 77 of these patients are ‘neuropatients’, which means they have only preserved their heads.

Cryopreservation or cryoconservation is a process where cells, whole tissues, or any other substances susceptible to damage caused by chemical reactivity or time are preserved by cooling to sub-zero temperatures. At low enough temperatures, any enzymatic or chemical activity which might cause damage to the material in question, is effectively stopped.

Neuropatients: Sci-fi or realiy?
At Oxford University, members of the Future of Humanity Institute (FHI) have signed an agreement that on their death they will allow their bodies to be frozen. There are currently 160 cryogenic patients within the two facilities: Alcor and The Cryonics Institute with a further 1,000 patients across the world signed up. Around 90 of the already preserved patients are ‘neuropatients’ meaning that they have only preserved their heads. Many cryogenic patients choose this option due to the costs of freezing the whole body; to get the whole body frozen it costs up to $200 000, whereas for neuropatients it costs up to $70 000.

The process for cryogenics is that within 2-15 minutes of the patient's death the body receives a transfusion of antifreeze; once body fluids are perfused with antifreeze the body is covered in a bag and stored upright in liquid nitrogen at -196C. After this, the body stays in there until reanimation. Scientists have still not discovered a safe way of unfreezing the bodies; they believe that future scientists with better advancement and knowledge of cryonics will discover a safe way of re-animating the frozen. However, there are some experts who believe that medical science will never reach the point of being able to revive the patients.

There are many people who have chosen to be cryogenically frozen. The first was Dr James Bedford a 73-year old psychologist who was frozen by Alcor in 1967. The most famous example, so far, was American sports personality Ted Williams whose wishes in his final will were to be cremated, yet his son John-Henry argued that his last wishes were to be frozen; the law suit that ensued favored Ted’s son and Ted was frozen in 2002.

Those who are interested in cryogenic freezing may be in for a long wait. The freezing is the grim, but relatively easy part. The hard part is thawing the frozen people and bringing them back to life, which no one has any idea how to do, at least not yet. Essentially, the cryonics services are betting that science will outrun time, and that sooner rather than later someone will work out how to bring people back from cryo-sleeping in an icy canister of liquid nitrogen. Is that a large, long-odds bet? Well, there are some small-scale examples that provide inspiration -- human embryos, for one, can be frozen, thawed and used. The field of nanotechnology also provides great hope for those in the field of cryonics. Not only might nanotechnology one day be able to repair any illness that led to the frozen person's death, but it may also provide the means of repairing any damage done by the process of cooling and thawing. That is the hope, anyway.

Humiliating contestants for
thousands more years?
Simon Cowell has been humiliating talent show contestants with his caustic comments for years. Now if he gets his way, he could still be tormenting them in the next century. The television mogul wants to have his body frozen after his death so he can be brought back to life in the future. He told guests at a private dinner hosted by Prime Minister Gordon Brown: ‘I have decided to freeze myself when I die. You know, cryonics. You pay a lot of money and you get stuck in a deep freeze once you’ve been declared dead. ‘Medical science is bound to work out a way of bringing us back to life in the next century or so, and I want to be available when they do. I would be doing the nation an invaluable service.’

Mr Brown, whose guests at the Downing Street function included Mail on Sunday columnist Piers Morgan, actress Amanda Holden and BBC1’s The One Show presenter Christine Bleakley, was less enthused by the idea. ‘I am not sure me coming back from the dead would be quite as popular as Simon,’ the Prime Minister said. ‘In fact, there may be a public campaign to stop me being frozen!’

Two firms in the US offer the service – the Cryonics Institute and Alcor. More than 160 people have already been frozen with a further 1,000 signed up worldwide, including about 100 in England. For those who pay the fee, a trained team is sent as soon as they die to take care of their body. Those who have their bodies frozen hope their memories, personality and identity will be stored indefinitely in their brain cells. However, experts are sceptical that medical science will ever reach a point when they can be revived. Moreover, the cryonics industry has had its disasters. In 1979, nine bodies stored in a cemetery in California thawed out because the company involved ran out of money.

So, our impressions of cryogenic freezing were that it seemed like such a scientific revolution that it must be one of the first steps to a very science based future. We were almost in awe of the idea of people almost being able to be reborn at a later date after having been preserved in ice for such a long period of time. However, once said feelings had simmered down, it came to the realization that what if, after having spent huge sums of money and having potential quarrels with family members and friends as to why it’s such an absurd thing to do, the whole process simply fails.?What if science never reaches the ability to bring you back? They have no such knowledge at the moment; wouldn’t it merely be a waste of time, money and friendship? Despite the wonders and drastic advances of science you must think, is it really worth it?


  1. A very interesting piece of writing

  2. this sounds very interesting


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