Presentation on theme: "Cryonics and Nanotechnology Steve West At this point, the idea of cryonics probably sounds like the end of death. In theory, it is… or at least it will."— Presentation transcript:
At this point, the idea of cryonics probably sounds like the end of death. In theory, it is… or at least it will be. In practice, there are a number of problems that prevent it from becoming commonplace. 1.Whenever the temperature of matter decreases this much, ice crystals will form. In living cells, this would cause irreversible cell degradation and damage. 2.While vitrification nearly completely deals with the formation of ice, it presents a new issue. Cryoprotectant chemicals, in the concentrations that are needed, are highly toxic to the body, and cause nearly as much damage. 3.Even if a body can be perfectly preserved, the fact that it needed preservation means that current medical technology could not cure what killed the patient, and there is nothing but speculation to prove that future technology would fare any better. 4.Cryonic freezing is expensive. If you plan on becoming one of Alcor Life Extension Foundation’s “patients”, expect to be set back about $150 000. 5.Restrictions and codes of ethics prevent work on patients who are not declared legally and clinically dead. This means that work must be done fast, and too much cell damage may occur before the patient’s body is even preserved properly.
Cryonics is the belief that a human being or organism that can no longer sustain life may be frozen cryogenically immediately after death, and, sometime in the future, may be brought back to life. The idea behind Cryonics is not to directly reverse the death of an organism, but to preserve it until a time when it may be brought back. Interesting Fact: There is controversy as to whether Cryonics is itself a science. Many cryonicists believe that it is, while non-believers and skeptics consider it to be a proto-science at best, and at worst, pseudo-science and fraud.
Many people believe that Cryonics and Cryogenics are simply two interchangeable terms for the same science. This is not actually the case. Cryogenics is the study of the behavior of materials when subjected to extremely low temperatures (roughly anything below 150K (Kelvin)). The science focuses on the industrial application of freezing matter at extremely low temperatures (such as cryogenic freezers or use during surgery) Cryonics, while based in the same concept of freezing matter at cryogenic temperatures, is specifically the belief LIVNG organisms, once pronounced clinically dead, may be preserved and eventually “resuscitated” via technology that is not currently available. Cryogenic institutions do not generally support Cryonics, considering the concept impossible and the practice a waste of resources. Diagram of a Cryostat (Used in Cryogenic Storage)
The founding idea behind cryonics is that “death” as we consider it is not necessarily final. Legal death is pronounced when the patient enters complete cardiac arrest. However, this is theoretically not truly death. By a scientific standpoint, complete death only occurs when cell damage and chemical disorder becomes so severe that normal operation could not possibly be restored. Even this is a subjective term, however, as advances in medicine continually move the threshold for what damage is irreversible. Absolute death, by these standards, only occurs when the chemistry of life has been disrupted to such an extent that, in theory, NO technology would ever be able to restore it to functioning. This is known as information-theoretic death. Because of these principles, cryonic scientists believe that, even once a patient has been considered clinically dead, their life can be preserved as long as their cell structure and chemical interaction remain intact. While they are considered incurable by current medical standards, they can be kept “alive” until such a time that repairing them to normal functioning is possible.
Cryonics once relied solely on freezing a patient at extreme temperatures using a cryogen such as liquid nitrogen or helium. However, more recently, a newer form of preservation has been developed. When cryogenically preserving an organ, the addition of large amounts of chemicals known as cryoprotectants can prevent the buildup of ice crystals within cells. The chemistry of life stops completely, but there is very little to no cell damage caused by ice buildup. Preserving something at cryogenic temperatures without any formation of ice is known as vitrification, and could be the future of successful Cryonics. Liquid nitrogen is COLD! It liquefies at temperatures below 77K, the equivalent of -196°C.
The Alcor Life Extension Foundation is one of the foremost researchers of cryonic science, and is the best place to go if you plan on becoming a member. Upon becoming a member, it is possible to have either the entire body or the head only preserved upon death. Alcor will intervene at the earliest possible moment after cardiac death. Alcor patients are stored in vacuum sealed tanks under liquid nitrogen for long term care. These are much like giant thermos bottles, heavily insulated to keep cold in and heat out.
After a body or other organism has been preserved through cryonics, there remains the issue of how to revive them in future times, and, upon doing so, regenerate damaged tissue and cells to an extent that life can continue. Besides the concept of memory and identity uplink (the concept of uploading a person’s identity onto a mechanical device), nanotechnology, specifically nanomedicine, is the most promising method of doing this.
In its most general term, nanotechnology is engineering at an extremely small scale. Nanotechnology has many applications, such as in the industry and the field of medicine. As nanotechnology improves, smaller, more efficient devices and machines can be created, using fewer resources and consuming smaller amounts of energy. In the field of nanomedicine, nanotechnology holds the potential to greatly improve medical treatment. Nanomachines could be used to diagnose diseases much more quickly, or made to specifically target a malicious virus or bacteria at a cellular level. This process would be much less dangerous than flooding the body with a high concentration of a conventional medicine, which could have harmful side effects. Below is a link to a video on how Rexin-G, a type of nanomedicine made to target tumor cells, works. Note that this video is from a commercial site and so is not included as an information source in the Works Cited: http://www.hybridmedicalanimation.com/anim_rexg3.html
Because of the medical applications of nanotechnology, nanomedicine plays a key role in the future of Cryonics. Advances in the field of nanomedicine may lead (in the near or distant future) to a method of successfully bringing a vitrified human back to life. Ideally, a machine could be created on a cellular scale to counteract and repair the damage caused by ice crystal formation and cryoprotectants, to maintain the condition of the patient during storage, and to eliminate the cryoprotectants upon “waking up”. The technology to do so has not yet been developed, but future advances may make this entirely possible.
Ethics and Controversy Cryonics is a very controversial subject in modern society. The idea that life does not end upon clinical or cardiac death is not easily accepted, as death would now be considered, to an extent, a reversible process. This concept raises the moral question of whether humans should ever be able to access technology capable of preventing loss of life to such an extent. Even more so, the process of extending life (possibly indefinitely, if nanomedicine advances to the point where cells can be actively repaired by nanomachines) could be considered as stepping beyond the boundary of what should and should not be possible, or tampering with the laws of nature. The preservation of the human body after “death” also brings into question the concept of the soul, which, according to religion or certain cultures, could not be preserved as the physical body could. In addition to the moral controversy of these sciences, there are more practical issues that arise as well. Storing vitrified patients over extended periods of time requires careful monitoring, energy, and resources. These resources are used for a practice that may or may not have any gain in future. If cryonics and nanomedicine successfully advance, population and therefore environmental issues will arise. If death can be “repaired” populations will skyrocket as there is nothing to balance new births. The point will inevitably be reached where Earth can no longer support the population, and natural resources will be used up in ever increasing amounts.
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