Nectome wants to preserve your brain and at some point in the future they would digitize your memories to upload your consciousness. Alcor wants to preserve your brain and body so that when future technology is available your brain and body can be repaired at the molecular level and you can be revived.
Nectome wants to maximize the brain that it is preserving by using doctor-assisted suicide to end your life in a way that best preserves the brain. This would only work where doctor-assisted suicide is legal.
Alcor does not want to fight the current legal system that is different all over the world but wants to take your body as soon after you are declared legally dead. Then Alcor will preserve and freeze the brain and body. Alcor feels that it is likely that advanced molecular nanotechnology will be required to restore the damaged brain and body. It will not be that much of a greater challenge to restore from the legally dead state versus some doctor-assisted suicide state.
Nectome mission is to preserve your brain well enough to keep all its memories intact: from that great chapter of your favorite book to the feeling of cold winter air, baking an apple pie, or having dinner with your friends and family. If memories can truly be preserved by a sufficiently good brain banking technique, we believe that within the century it could become feasible to digitize your preserved brain and use that information to recreate your mind. How close are we to this possibility? Currently, they can preserve the connectomes of animal brains and are working on extending our techniques to human brains in a research context. This is an important first step towards the development of a verified memory preservation protocol, as the connectome plays a vital role in memory storage.
California has two-year-old End of Life Option Act (doctor-assisted suicide). Nectome’s procedure to preserve the brain requires that the brain is fresh.
Edward Boyden, a top neuroscientist at MIT, has won an $80,000 science prize for preserving a pig’s brain so well that every synapse inside it could be seen with an electron microscope.
Sam Altman, a 32-year-old, is one of the creators of the Y Combinator program. Altman has given a $10,000 deposit to Nectome.
Alcor Cryonics takes the body after it has been declared legally dead
In Arizona, the Alcor Life Extension Foundation holds more than 150 bodies and heads in liquid nitrogen, including those of baseball great Ted Williams.
A person who can be resuscitated is not dead. Therefore if cryonics patients are preserved well enough that they might someday be resuscitated, then they aren’t dead: they are cryopreserved.
Before cryonics procedures can begin under present law, a patient must be legally dead. Legal death means that a qualified authority has determined that further care or resuscitation is not appropriate, usually after determining that heartbeat and breathing (or in some cases, brain activity during life support) have ceased. Legal death is a legal fiction, not to be confused with reality. A legally dead sailor who was lost at sea, yet finally returns home, is not actually dead. Given the gulf between today’s medical technology and the expected capabilities of future medical technology, the gap between law and reality is likely to persist. Under ideal conditions, cryonics procedures can begin moments after the heart stops beating. Blood circulation and breathing can be artificially restored, keeping cells of the brain and body alive and functioning during the early stages of cryopreservation. Cryonics may also be performed after longer periods of legal death while retaining the possibility of future repair and resuscitation.
Cryonics procedures should ideally begin within the first one or two minutes after the heart stops, and preferably within 15 minutes. Longer delays place a greater burden on future technology to reverse injury and restore the brain to a healthy state, and make it more uncertain that the correct original state can be determined. Exactly when such restoration is no longer feasible is a matter of some debate and could be many hours. The greatest impact of delay is that it degrades the circulatory system, reducing the ability to circulate chemicals that reduce freezing injury.
The most effective way of reducing delays and getting the highest quality cryopreservation is to relocate to cooperative hospice care near Alcor.
Cold preservation (cryopreservation) is not yet reversible with present technology, but this says nothing about the abilities of future technology. What is “fatal” varies from place to place and time to time depending on available medical technology. Future medical capabilities should be able to heal and cure in cases that today would be considered hopeless, just as today’s medicine would be viewed as miraculous in past centuries.
When will Alcor patients be revived?
A: That depends on when they are cryopreserved, the specific details of how well they are cryopreserved, and how rapidly future medical technologies, particularly molecular nanotechnology, are developed. Cryonics technology is always improving; it is better now than it was in 2000, which was better than it was in 1990, which in turn was much better than the crude methods used on the first cryonics patients in the late 1960s. Eventually a time will come when human suspended animation will be perfected. In other words, it will be possible to routinely turn people “off” and “on” for medical time travel, space travel and other purposes. As progress continues, it will then become possible to recover people preserved at earlier times, with less perfect methods and greater degrees of injury.
Some think it will take centuries before patients can be revived, while others think the accelerating pace of technological change might so rapidly transform our world that decades would suffice. Alcor is planning for however long it might take.
Nectome plans not to revive but to upload
The connectome contains information about how your brain is “wired together”: all of your neurons and the synaptic connections between them.
Your connectome will degrade after death and the memories it contains will be totally destroyed. Our technique, vitrifixation (also known as Aldehyde-Stabilized Cryopreservation), stabilizes the connectome, preventing degradation and maintaining the integrity of your connectome.
Nectome’s preservation process is a two part process, fixation and vitrification.
They use the powerful chemical fixative glutaraldehyde to rapidly solidify synapses and prevent decay. You can think of glutaraldehyde as a pair of molecular “handcuffs” — each end is a “cuff”, and the connecting carbon molecules are the “chain”. When you expose brain tissue to glutaraldehyde, the glutaraldehyde rapidly binds to everything it can, transforming the brain from a soft, watery consistency to that of soft rubber. This process is called “fixation” and has been used for decades to preserve biological samples including brains, various organs, and even entire animals.
Once the brain is fully fixed with glutaraldehyde, it is protected from decay for weeks, months, or perhaps even a year or two depending on how carefully it is stored. However, brains can still slowly degrade even when fixed with glutaraldehyde. To solve this problem, we use extreme cold (-122°C!) to extend storage times to hundreds of years.
Vitrifixation avoids ice crystals in brains the same way you avoid them in your car during winter — with antifreeze. Ethylene glycol is the same chemical used in automotive antifreeze solutions and works by disrupting the hydrogen bonds between water molecules so that they can’t link together to form ice crystals. Once the concentration of ethylene glycol is high enough, ice crystals will never form, regardless of how cold it gets. Instead, as the solution gets colder it becomes more and more viscous until it becomes a vitreous (glass-like) solid, a process called vitrification.
Vitrifixation has won the Brain Preservation Prize for preserving all of the synapses in a rabbit brain. To win this prize, vitrifixation had a pass a rigorous test which involved extensive imaging of a preserved rabbit brain with electron microscopy.
Nectome is currently working on scaling vitrifixation to work on human brains, and preserve the first human connectome in a research context.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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