Cryopreservation means storing the body till such a time in the future when medical science has developed to the extent of reviving it.

What is cryopreservation and can frozen human bodies really be brought back to life
Features Science Saturday, November 19, 2016 - 18:43

A 14-year-old British girl's body has been cryogenically frozen- after she died of a rare form of cancer last month- in the hope that she can be "cured and woken up" in the future. 

According to The Guardian, the teenager referred to as JS, prior to her death, had written a letter to a court stating, "I have been asked to explain why I want this unusual thing done. I’m only 14 years old and I don’t want to die, but I know I am going to. I think being cryo‐preserved gives me a chance to be cured and woken up, even in hundreds of years’ time."

"I don’t want to be buried underground. I want to live and live longer and I think that in the future they might find a cure for my cancer and wake me up. I want to have this chance. This is my wish," she said in her letter. 

After coming to know that her disease was terminal, JS looked up for cryonic preservation online in the final months of her life. Since she was a minor, she needed both her parent's permission for her wish to be carried out, The Telegraph reported. 

"I’m dying, but I’m going to come back again in 200 years," she told a relative according to the report. 

The body of JS, who is among only 10 Britons to have been frozen, and the only British child, has been flown to a storage facility in the US. 

What is cryogenic preservation and how does it work?

Simply put, it means freezing and storing the body till such a time in the future when medical science has developed to the extent of reviving it.

Within minutes of a person's death, the body has to be prepared for the procedure in order to prevent the disintegration of brain cells due to lack of oxygen. The body temperature is first brought down by putting it in an ice bath.

Once the body reaches the facility, "the blood is drained and replaced with a mixture of anti-freeze and organ-preserving chemicals. This transforms the corpse into a glassy vitrified state, ready to be lowered into liquid nitrogen, at a temperature of -196C," this report explains.

Only three organisations in the world are currently known to be providing the facility of cryopreservation- Alcor Life Extension Foundation, Cryonics Institute in the US and KrioRus in Russia.

There are also options to freeze just the brain and some also choose their pets to be frozen. 

Bloomberg report states, "The cost for a full-body preservation is $36,000, but the price drops to $12,000 if KrioRus freezes only your head. International transportation costs will add an additional $6,000 to the tab, so it’s preferable to die in the Moscow area if at all possible. Most clients pay their fee in installments, beginning at sign-up."

The first preservation took place in the 1960s and since then around 350 people's bodies have been frozen. 

"Dying is worse"

While those opting for cryopreservation do not really think being frozen is the best idea, they do however feel that it is better than dying. 

"It’s the only alternative we have at the moment to death. It is definitely better to be frozen than buried or burned. Cryonics is the best action in the worst circumstances," Mikhail Batin, a KrioRus client, told Bloomberg. 

76-year-old Chrissie de Rivaz from Cornwall is also saving up for the procedure. "I know it is a very slim chance, but however long you live is never long enough," she told the BBC.

Can frozen bodies really be revived later?

"A hundred years ago, cardiac arrest was irreversible. People were called dead when their heart stopped beating. Today death is believed to occur 4 to 6 minutes after the heart stops beating because after several minutes it is difficult to resuscitate the brain. However, with new experimental treatments, more than 10 minutes of warm cardiac arrest can now be survived without brain injury. Future technologies for molecular repair may extend the frontiers of resuscitation beyond 60 minutes or more, making today's beliefs about when death occurs obsolete," Alcor's website reads. 

However, the theory of cryopreservation has been contradicted very strongly.

Certain kinds of human tissue like embryos, stem cells and even sperms can be stored successfully, but this does not apply to restoring an entire human body with numerous complex systems, several scientists say. 

Stating that cryopreservation has helped in storing living cells, Professor Barry Fuller, Professor in Surgical Science and Low Temperature Medicine at UCL, said that it has however not "yet been successfully applied to large structures, such as human kidneys for transplantation, because we have not yet adequately been able to produce suitable equipment to optimise all the steps. This is why we have to say that at the moment we have no objective evidence that a whole human body can survive cryopreservation with cells which will function after rearming."

"The main problem is that [the brain] is a massively dense piece of tissue. The idea that you can infiltrate it with some kind of anti-freeze and it will protect the tissue is ridiculous," Clive Coen, a neuroscience professor at King’s College London, told The Guardian

"When you look at the brain, with 100 billion cells and 10,000 links between these and other cells... there's no way in hell you can restore the function in that," Martin Ingvar, a cognitive neuroscientist at Sweden's Karolinska Institute told Daily Mail while blaming its practitioners of "charlatanism".

Some say the idea is nothing more than fiction. 

Simon Woods, an expert in medical ethics, Newcastle University, told the BBC, "The diagnosis of death is that death is irreversible, and for people who seek cryopreservation, they've died of a serious disease, in this case it's cancer."

"The person is in a pretty bad state of health to begin with, and there's absolutely no scientific evidence that the person could be brought back to life," he added. 

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