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Cryopreservation in life extension [was Re: Tortoises & cryonics]

Robert Bradbury rbradbur at hardy.u.washington.edu
Wed May 27 14:01:22 EST 1992

In article <9205262240.AA01271 at rust.zso.dec.com> french at RUST.ZSO.DEC.COM writes:
>In article <14813 at pitt.UUCP> Gordon Banks writes:
>> There is a good chance that within a century or so we will have the 
>> capabilities of engineering germ cell lines to the point that almost 
>> any characteristic could be programmed into the individual.  It is here 
>> that the most likely promise of "immortality" lies, not in cryonics.  
>> By the time the technology to revive these frozen fossils is in place 
>> (if ever), those who would be doing the reviving may look upon the 
>> frozen specimens as genetically hopeless and have no desire to resurrect
>> such poor specimens.
>Yes, any approach to immortality other than improving the germ line by 
>introducing improved repair and error correction mechanisms into our
>DNA is an exercise in futility!  Once this is understood, one begins 
>to question the current direction of medical research which, at best, 
>will extend our lives by only a few years.

I agree with Larry that our current medical research (most of it) is
misdirected.  This is because as he points out it increases our life for only
a few years and most importantly increases those years at an ever increasing
cost per additional unit of lifetime.  This reaches the point (as it
did with my grandmother) where the final years of her life cost society
(the state of Massachusetts) more than she made in her entire lifetime.  
Another example would be the recent case, I think it was in Pennsylvania,
where a man in his 30's or 40's was about to undergo his 3rd transplant
operation (due to failures of the first two).  In that case I would bet
his health care costs would exceed his future lifetime potential earnings.

In my opinion medical research funding and health care coverage should
be directed directly towards efforts which will provide the greatest
benifit for the lowest cost (invoking the principle of utilitarianism as well
as good economics).  The politicians and the medical community need to start
making it clear to people that if we are going to use "public" monies they
should be used to provide the greatest benifit to the greatest number of
people possible.  However this in no way should preclude individuals from
investing/spending their own monies on life preserving/reanimation

Now, one must ask where cryonics fits in.  If one accepts that in the long
term we will engineer ourselves to have longer lives then one has to agree
that the major cause of unplanned death will be accidents.  In situations
such as this the ability to lower the body temperature to allow extended
microsurgery, to pull replacement organs out of a freezer or keep a person
in a "suspended state" while a new organ is cloned and grown will play
critical roles in preserving life when it would otherwise be impossible.
The only way around this is to argue that we can engineer "instantaneous"
regrowth of vital organs or we will have replacement "machines" for all
bodily functions.  I have to believe that the first is unlikely and the
second would probably be more expensive and less effective than "real organs".
So one can see an important place for cold storage of tissues with varying
degrees of "aliveness" in the general scheme of life preservation.

This leads us to look at where cryonics funding is today.  If people go
down to their health sciences library and pull out "Cryobiology" they will
find many articles done by "real" scientists researching things like blood and
organ preservation and the effects of cold storage on tissue samples preserved
for long term research.  The HIV labs at major research centers have large
numbers of lymphocytes from patients preserved in LN for the purpose of
studying disease progression and drug efficacy.  To argue that funding for
this type of research is irrelevant is to ignore the threat posed by HIV.

Research in cryobiology is progressing rapidly considering how little funding
there actually is for it.  Lymphocytes properly frozen can be preserved for
years and thawed out with 70%-80% viability.  Obviously these will need to
be improved for nerve tissue but numbers in this range are probably fine
for young liver, kidney and muscle tissue given that one probably loses 
20-30% or more of these cells over a normal lifetime anyway.  It is also
worth noting that this type of research will end up lowering the costs
of blood and organs by allowing their long term storage.

So to argue that cryopreservation is "irrelevant" or "futile" is to ignore
the current uses for the technology and the pace at which it has advanced
over the last 20 years.  To argue we shouldn't be doing this type of
research one needs to offer alternate forms of research which would
provide equivalent benifits at a lower cost.  And finally to argue that
cryonic preservation of human tissue with its potential reanimation is
never going to work is akin to arguing that we will never get 1 billion
transistors on a chip.

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