The Fundamental Concept of Cryonics, Cryobiological Information, and
other Cryonics related research
Cryonics is, at its very essence, a fairly simple concept. If we take individuals, as near to the time of their clinical death as possible, and place them in temperatures that are ultralow ("cryogenic"--i.e., temperatures like that of liquid nitrogen, which is around minus 320 degrees Fahrenheit) essentially all deterioration that occurs after clinical death is stopped. The expectation is that with the continuing advance of science and, in particular these days, a branch of science called nanotechnology, future physicians and scientists should be able to revive an individual. Further, these future scientists and physicians should be able to cure the individual of whatever terminal disease or injury that they had along with any damage that the cryonic procedure may have caused. Finally, with the advanced technology of the future, it should be possible to restore the individual to a state of youth and health comparable to that when the person was in the "prime of their life".
This concept, which may seem unusual upon initially hearing about it, has caught the interest of many. At present, a couple of hundred individuals have had themselves placed at ultralow temperatures after their clinical death in the hope and expectation that future science and medical procedures will be able to help them. Numerous other individuals have completed the proper paperwork and funding necessary to have the procedure carried out on themselves when the time comes. People involved in cryonics cover the gamut of life, ranging from truck drivers to housewives, from attorneys to physicians and scientifically trained persons, with all sorts of political and personal views on various subjects. The one area which they totally agree on is that human life is a precious, precious thing and that every reasonable step should be taken in trying to preserve it.
Founding of Cryonics:
Cryonics was essentially founded by a man by the name of Robert C.W. Ettinger. Mr. Ettinger, who has now been placed in a cryostat himself (a cryostat is a vessel for holding things at extremely low temperatures), first thought of the concept fairly early in his life. After years of waiting for someone else to announce the idea and push it forward and after time spent delving into various topics, including literature on cryobiology, Mr. Ettinger decided he had to take action himself. In 1962, he wrote an initial version of what later would be his seminal book on the topic and sent copies around to several persons whom he picked out of Who's Who in America. Among the readers was Dr. Isaac Asimov, a noted science and science fiction writer. Dr. Asimov pronounced the general concept as reasonable and, in 1964, Mr. Ettinger's concept was introduced to the public at large in the form of a book The Prospect of Immortality. It was printed by Doubleday publishers in a hardcover version and was a "Book of the Month Club" offering. After the publication of this volume, numerous individuals became interested and organizations were formed with the intent on making the availability of cryonic procedures and storage (sometimes referred to as "cryonic suspension" or "cryopreservation") widespread.
Organizations Involved In Cryonics:
At present there are several organizations engaged in various ways in the efforts of trying to make cryonics a more everyday and widespread reality. One is the Cryonics Institute, an organization that has as one of its founders Robert Ettinger himself. The Cryonics Institute, or CI as it is normally known, is located in Clinton Township, Michigan. Another is the Alcor Corporation, which is located in Scottsdale, Arizona and was originally formed by Fred and Linda Chamberlain, both dedicated cryonics advocates. The American Cryonics Society is in Cupertino, California and has been in business for decades. The Immortalist Society is a Michigan based corporation that engages in research and education and traces its history back to the 1960's. A more recent proprietary company exists, Suspended Animation, Inc., located in Boynton Beach, Florida. Suspended Animation offers an option to supplement routine cryonic suspension and storage of individuals through a "standby and transport" procedure to be initially carried out at the bedside of a cryonics patient. In addition to these organizations, other groups are either formed or are in the process of being formed in various other parts of the world. While cryonics is still an experimental procedure and an effort with varying approaches, it continues to have support and interest among members of the public, included among which are individuals with scientific training and backgrounds.
For Further Information:
The Immortalist Society would urge that you begin to avail yourself of the voluminous amounts of information that is now fortunately available on the subject on the Internet. Simply typing "Cryonics" into the search box of any of the popular Internet "search engines" (i.e., Yahoo, Google, etc.) will result in numerous web sites and pages on the subject being brought up.
One caution is that the amount and quality of the information may vary greatly. Regrettably, even among what should be thought of as "professional" news organizations, it is easy for erroneous information to continue to be posted. Also, in approaching any new subject, healthy skepticism should be the watchwords until you are sure that you are dealing with reputable and ethical groups and individuals.
If you have any questions that need to be answered, however, don't hesitate to contact one of the cryonics groups. Look closely at the information given and compare the information from one place with another. As in any other worthwhile endeavor in life, there's no substitute for "doing your homework". The Immortalist Society is here to help as well, especially considering that one of our main purposes is to try to disseminate accurate information about the subject of cryonics. Don't hesitate to drop us a line at the address at the top of the page. Also, continue to come back to this website to look for additional information and/or updated information about the exciting and world-changing concept of cryonics!
Definition of Cryobiology:
The Society for Cryobiology defines cryobiology on their public web page as follows:
"The word cryobiology literally signifies the science of life at icy temperatures. In practice, this field comprises the study of any biological material or system (e.g., proteins, cells, tissues, or organs) subjected to any temperature below normal (ranging from cryogenic temperatures to moderately hypothermic conditions)".
For the purposes of those of us engaged in cryonics, a shorter definition might be that it is the study of how living systems and their parts, systems and subsystems react to low temperatures.
Use of Cryobiological Knowledge by Cryonics:
Cryonics tries to use the knowledge gained by cryobiologists and other fields of study to the degree possible. The purpose of this is in order to maximize the chances that an individual has in undergoing the procedures associated with cryonics.
General Background of Cryobiology:
It had been noted, of course, by people throughout the ages of the general effects of low temperatures on various plants and animals. The effects in antiquity were by and large noted to be deleterious to humans since homo sapiens is a warm blooded animal with an absence of fur. The absence of fur and other protective structures such as a large amount of subcutaneous fat is unlike, of course, many other mammals. Temperatures and conditions that might be suitable for other mammals could prove fatal to human beings. Further humans have very little ability to protect themselves from the cold other than through the use of warm clothing, shelter, and the ability to build a fire.
In ancient history, Egyptians apparently used some low temperatures in medicine. Hippocrates recommended the stopping of bleeding and swelling by the use of cold. At least one reference says that Robert Boyle did some experimental work on low temperatures and their effect on animals.
In 1950, an English biologist by the name of Christopher Polge managed to successfully fertilize chicken eggs with sperm that had been frozen. A couple of years after that, Polge used sperm that had been frozen in excess of a year to attain pregnancies in cattle.
On the 28th day of March of 1984, Zoe Leyland was born after first having been a frozen embryo. At this point in time, of course, human embryos, sperm, and eggs are routinely stored at cryogenic temperatures. As of 2009, some 600,000 people had been born after first being frozen embryos.
Today, research in cryobiology continues in various areas. The ideal situation would be, of course, the ability to store any tissues and, ultimately, entire organs and organisms themselves at temperatures suitable to attain a state of fully reversible "suspended animation". While progress has been made in the field of cryobiology, it isn't yet possible to place a human being in a state of suspended animation, Hollywood movies notwithstanding. In the meantime, cryonics continues to try to use such information and expertise as has been developed to try to improve and refine the process of cryonics itself.
A Source of Contention Between Cryobiologists and Cryonics:
Regrettably, the relationship between cryonicists and cryobiologists has not always been ideal. Some initial cooperative efforts with some cryobiologists followed the publishing of The Prospect of Immortality, Robert Ettinger's original book on the subject of cryonics. Sadly, this state of affairs didn't last forever and, at present, the Society for Cryobiology has had a bylaw in place since 1982 that states that the Board of Governors of their organization, on a 2/3 vote, "... may refuse membership to applicants, or suspend or expel members...whose conduct is deemed detrimental to the Society...including applicants or members engaged in or who promote any practice or application which the Board of Governors deems incompatible with the ethical and scientific standards of the Society...including any practice or application of freezing deceased persons in anticipation of their reanimation."
The fact is that there are indeed some members of the Society for Cryobiology who do agree with and assist cryonics organizations in their efforts. These individuals are highly scientifically trained and simply believe, as many members of cryonics organizations with scientific training do, that cryonics is a concept that is honorable, worthwhile, and worth pursuing.
At least one member of the Society for Cryobiology who was later openly quite critical of the feasibility of cryonics was initially helpful to the cryonics effort and wrote a letter to Robert Ettinger back in the late 1960's in which he indicated that he had the greatest respect and admiration for Mr. Ettinger and his efforts to organize the Cryonics Society of Michigan, the predecessor to the Immortalist Society. Further, the individual asked to be put on the mailing list and to be apprised of the developments of the Scientific Advisory Council of the Cryonics Society of Michigan and of CSM itself. This individual also was quite helpful to the now defunct Cryonics Society of New York in its initial efforts, including advice offered in the cryonic suspension of one of CSNY's patients.
It is hoped by many in cryonics that the position of the Society for Cryobiology will eventually change to one that is more tolerant of the divergent viewpoints held about cryonics by well meaning and well educated people.
Immortalist Society Research Program:
General Interest of Cryonicists in Research
An important aspect of cryonics is the interest that cryonicists have in doing proper scientific research. Cryonics is not, as is sometimes alleged by its opponents, a cult or some some sort of religious belief system. Robert Ettinger, the individual who is generally acknowledged to be the "father of cryonics", had scientific training himself, possessing a Master's Degree in Physics and a second Master's Degree in Mathematics. Mr. Ettinger, throughout his life, maintained a scientific attitude towards cryonics and was always interested in what could be done to improve the process to increase an individual's chances of being successfully revived and rejuvenated by future technology. Cryonics is based on the concept that you can place individuals, at or near the time of their clinical death, at ultra low temperatures and then, if civilization endures, medical science should eventually be able to revive the individual, repair them of their injuries or whatever disease they had, whatever damage the cryonics process caused, and then rejuvenate them and restore them to a state of reasonable youth and good health.
Cryonicists do not, however, simply sit around and wait for good things to happen. All cryonics organizations are very interested in how they can lessen the burden on future science and how they can improve the process of cryonics (sometimes called "cryonic suspension" or "cryopreservation"). Down through the years several research efforts have been carried out.
Two Efforts/Projects of the Immortalist Society
The Immortalist Society has, at present, developed two efforts to deal with the problems of research in cryonics. A very recent development has been the decision of the Immortalist Society to start an Organ Cryopreservation Prize. To read more about the Organ Cryopreservation Prize, click here. Once you've finished reading about this interesting and helpful concept, you can return here for some more general information about cryonics research sponsored by the Immortalist Society, as well as having a link to the interesting research specifically conducted by ANB, Inc.
A second, and more lengthy effort, has been the work the Immortalist Society has done through research it contracts with through Advanced Neural Biosciences, Inc., an Oregon based company. The information that is below is information concerning both cryonics research in general and some information about the research work done by ANB, Inc. in particular.
Some Issues in Cryonics:
It was hoped by many cryonicists early in its development that cryonics would eventually be a routine part of "end of life" care and would be carried out in hospitals and other health care institutions throughout the world. Regrettably, that has not been the case though cryonicists are still hopeful this will occur in the future. Even if it were the case, cryonics, like traditional medical care, would still have to be carried out, in some instances, in less than perfect conditions. In the case of traditional medical care, the person whose heart stops while they are lying on an emergency room bed obviously has a better chance of having their heart restarted than someone whose heart stops in the middle of a lake when they are with a couple of friends on a fishing expedition. That person has a better chance of getting their heart restarted than someone whose heart stops while they are hiking alone in the middle of a forest.
There are, of course, in cryonics, varying situations in which persons will enter clinical death (frequently referred to in cryonics as "deanimation" to help distinguish it from "biological death/permanent death"). At times cryonics is not carried out routinely in a hospital setting as was first hoped, though, on occasion, some hospitals have been helpful in the effort. More recently, the development of "hospice care" has made it possible for procedures to be carried out, in some instances, as part of the patient's last wishes. In the case of Robert Ettinger, the founder of cryonics, his placement in hospice care resulted in the hospice caregivers being a great deal of help during the time period before the cryonic suspension procedures themselves were actually started.
A member of Mr. Ettinger's immediate family stated that one of the lessons emphasized from this was the need to be as prepared as one can be given the circumstances. One employee of the Cryonics Institute, the cryonics organization that was involved in Mr. Ettinger's situation, stated that Mr. Ettinger's suspension was one of the best ones that the Cryonics Institute had done. People knowledgeable about the particulars of Mr. Ettinger's case say that the efforts of the hospice workers, in addition to Mr. Ettinger's family working diligently at being fully prepared, were greatly helpful in the excellent outcome that occurred.
So, the lesson is, in the motto of the Boy Scouts of America, "Be prepared". Cryonics organizations attempt to do that through the use of research information gathered both in the area of low temperature biology ("cryobiology") and in other areas of science. Further, they have engaged in research programs down through the years to help improve cryonics procedures. It should be noted, however, on the negative side that no amount of preparation can suffice in what is, at this point, a far from perfect world. One cryonicist died in the middle of a desert and their body was not recovered for some time. Another cryonicist was lost in the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings on September 11, 2012. No amount of preparation can, of course, adequately prepare one for these very extreme circumstances.
On the positive side, the reality is that most people enter clinical death in pretty routine ways, due to either disease or accident. In many cases, as in Mr. Ettinger's case, there is sufficient advance warning that well thought out procedures planned and prepared for ahead of time can increase an individual's chances of a more efficient and therefore, hopefully, a more thorough state of preservation with as little damage to organs and tissues as possible.
One of the most robust findings of the ANB, Inc. research is that rapid induction of hypothermia (lowering the body's temperature) after the heart and lungs stop working, is beneficial in cryonics patients. Other findings of the ANB research continue to be studied and, where seemingly rationally useful, are attempted to be implemented in the practice of cryonics. The Immortalist Society is extremely pleased with the work that ANB, Inc. researchers have done that we feel will ultimately be beneficial to cryonics patients.
(Note: Individuals undergoing cryonics are referred to as "patients" as cryonics organizations consider them to be analogous to an individual whose heart and lungs have stopped being in the back of an ambulance speeding towards a hospital. Until it is determined at the hospital that the individual is beyond help, the person is still a patient. In the case of cryonics, the "ambulance" is the cryonics procedure and the "hospital" is future medical science and general technology).
For a more detailed paper on the ANB research efforts, click on the third button in the second row below. For information on the Organ Cryopreservation Prize, click on the third button in the last row.