2007-10-14

7th Alcor Conference, October 5-7, 2007 Part II

Sunday

First up was a panel discussion and question-and-answer on cryonics and critical care with David Crippen, M.D., a prominent critical care physician, Leslie Whetstine, Ph.D., a bioethicist, and Tanya Jones, of Alcor, moderated by Alcor's Aschwin de Wolf.

The first two panelists did not seem much familiar with cryonics, and they and the audience had some heated discussion, but out of it all came some interesting information and at least the recognition of the emotional difficulty of these issues.

David noted that because physicians can keep brains alive for a long time, it is often not clear when a person is "dead". Hospitals can maintain the heartbeat, breathing, body warmth, and most metabolic functions of a patient indefinitely. Brain death is decided by fulfillment of a checklist of objective criteria, but brain death is more of a process than event; it may not be something that happens all at once.

Normally, brain death is required for organ donation, but if cardiac function has ceased, if there is no request to resuscitate, and progression to death is inevitable, organ donation may proceed. Since cryopreservation is ideally begun on patients who are NOT brain dead, but only dead by cardiac criteria, as with organ donation, there may be serious controversy about whether the patient in this case ought to be considered dead.

David reminded the audience that surgeons scoffed at hand-washing before surgery, until it became REALLY obvious that it would save countless lives. Medical professionals tend to be very conservative, reluctant to change, and they tend to be convinced only by the "gold standard" of peer-reviewed, published medical research. If cryonicists can produce some of this, they may change minds over time. Right now, cryonics operates "under the wire" and the courts have not yet become involved.

Eventually, we may be sure, the courts will become involved, when there is a significant legal challenge.

The legal status quo, reflecting a long-standing social objection to suicide and euthanasia, is that "a person cannot agree to be dead at a particular time." Consent of the patient is irrelevant. This notion ruffled the feathers of many of the strong-willed, freethinking members of the audience, but it is an honest assessment of present legal and social opinion.

Nevertheless, Hugh Hixon captured the applause of the audience when he noted, in regard to the panelists' concern about a 'slippery slope', that if public policy completely ignored the wishes of the patient, they were already AT the bottom of a slippery slope.

Cryonicists, I would say, are caught in a difficult position. They theoretically admit and support the notion that when the patient's brain is 'alive', the patient is alive or at least possibly alive (able in theory to be resuscitated or reconstituted). But they want cryopreservation to be able to be conducted on these 'live' persons, at least when they are 'legally dead'. So cryonicists must support, in practice, the cardiac criteria they do not accept, in theory. Legal, ethical, and medical technology are developing in ways that are driving cryonics toward a confrontation with the rest of society, a demand for a demonstration of their fundamental claim: that their patients ARE potentially alive, both before AND after cryopreservation.

Tanya Jones noted that Alcor makes sure hospital staff are told of the anatomical donation arrangements of the standby patients. The staff are asked NOT to wait for brain death. Alcor has never had a patient declared brain dead. Cannulae can be placed before death pronouncement, even some medicines may be supplied.

Eventually there will be a transition when the brain is considered viable through cryopreservation, so that cryopreservation will have to become a medical procedure, not performed by Alcor, and not in the context of anatomical donation. Tanya said she would like to see Alcor take a more active approach in framing the legal debate of the future rather than waiting passively for legal challenges of others to frame the debate.

Leslie Whetstine maintained her doctoral dissertation's point that "cardiac arrest is a prognosis not a diagnosis, of death. All real death is brain death." The heart can beat in a brain dead body.

Leslie admitted to being confused by cryonicists' position. Cryonicists admit patients aren't really dead, yet they want the legal definition of death applied, transferring the patients' legal rights. On the other hand, where was the ethical controversy? Whole human embryos can be cryopreserved alive legally, so why can whole adults not be?

She argued that whole brain death need not be considered a necessary criterion for brain death. Rather, she said, loss of consciousness, or personhood, should be considered sufficient. Persistent vegetative state would qualify in this sense.

Aschwin wondered whether cryonics might someday be incorporated into long-term critical care medicine.

Next up was Steve Harris, M.D., of Critical Care Medicine, discussing liquid ventilation, the new method ensuring the fastest cooling of patients. The heart-lung machine is faster, but it requires more time to set up, thus making it practically slower. Liquid ventilation can cool 5 degrees in 5 minutes in dog experiments, once the airway ventilation is set up.

There are 300,000 cardiac arrests per year in the U.S., and up to 50% will have moderate or severe brain damage. There is a 67% survival rate after 5.5 minutes down, and it takes paramedics about 5-10 minutes at least to get to the patient. Damage after 10 minutes is enough to reduce non-vegetative survival to essentially zero. Most of the good effects of cooling (clinically induced post-resuscitation mild hypothermia) disappear after 15 minutes.

Liquid ventilation with perfluorocarbons was discovered in 1965, but recent FDA trials were disappointing. (Steve and Mike Darwin from the audience disagreed over the reasons why the trials failed, so I, for one, don't know what to conclude.) The volume, pressure, and other factors must be carefully controlled to prevent damage to the lungs (which can be lethal).

The next speaker was Calvin Mercer, Ph.D., a religious studies professor at East Carolina University. It was refreshing to see a discussion of religious, and specifically Christian, concerns about cryonics, since it is likely that religious people, an overwhelming majority of the U.S. (and world) population, will be decisively influential in how or whether cryonics will be studied, funded, researched, or implemented.

Already, there have been signs of the conservative objections to this new-fangled and unsettling idea, muted only (I would suppose) because of the widespread perception of its infeasibility. But even more disturbing is the rejection by the liberal, 'progressive' religious.

Calvin noted that complete scientific support of cryonics (even if cryonics got it!) wouldn't help if the general public doesn't give cryonics a place in the cultural arena of religion. Religious opinions on cryonics should be important to cryonicists because they will affect membership, legislative support, funding, and legal climate. He said his speech would focus on American Christians since they predominate in the area where cryonics is unfolding.

Calvin noted that SYMBOLS are very important to religious people; they are how religious people construct their identity in the world. Conservative Christians have historically been closed-minded to new science, but religion can, and has, evolved with culture over time. He believes that in the future, when it becomes clear that life extension is inevitable, both 'bioconservatives' and life extension enthusiasts will be found among both religious conservatives and religious liberals.

Religious liberals tend to be anthropocentric, this-wordly, pragmatic, and revisionist. That makes them friendly to science. But they are worried about fairness and access to new technologies for less privileged people. Their support for cryonics will depend on how the issue of justice is addressed by cryonics. How will cryonics affect "the least of these"? The poorest, the least educated?

This is certainly a concern I, for one, share.

Conservative Christians may be evangelicals or fundamentalists (the latter defined as "evangelicals who are angry about something"). They tend to be theocentric; they have a very low view of humans as sinful and weak. Their otherworldly emphasis is on supernatural realms and beings. They value religious understanding handed down from previous generations, unchanging. They hold dogmatic beliefs not open to debate.

Conservatives' longstanding suspicion of science will play some part in their attitudes towards cryonics. But Calvin believes some significant segment of conservative Christians may embrace life extension. They may, for example, think of life extension as a way of avoiding Hell and preparing to be sure they will go to Heaven. They may also be strongly convinced by the notion that cryonics preserves life (note their general pro-life stance). Resuscitation is not raising the really dead, only the apparently dead, they might argue. Resuscitation does not result in spiritual transformation, the way resurrection would. The soul might not 'leave the body' unless the person is really dead.

Christine Petersen of the Foresight Institute gave a quick review of everyday life extension practices such as diet, exercise, adequate quality sleep, and stress-avoidance, and humor. She wisely noted that one should not take just any supplement that MIGHT help since substances in the body may interact in undesirable ways. Authorities disagree on the number and type of supplements that would be advisable (from most conservative to most liberal: doctors, the FDA, RealAge.com, Kronos, Ray Sahelian, Ray Kurzweil, and the Life Extension Foundation). People should rearrange their lives if necessary to avoid "toxic" stress from bosses, commutes, coworkers, spouses, etc. Males benefit from greater quantity of sex, while females benefit from greater quality of sex. Most of her recommendations were of the sort, obviously, that the audience was not quick to object to!

Next up was Chris Heward, Ph.D., president of Kronos Science Laboratory, which has conducted many large population studies on aging. All the while not having any clear definition of what aging IS. Apparently, it may be many different, but interacting, biochemical processes. There are no yet accepted biomarkers for 'aging'. Kronos pays close attention to signs of oxidative stress, but there is significant (huge) variation across time in single individuals.

Life expectancy has increased in recent times, but mainly only due to decreases in infant mortality. Life expectancy increases after 65 years have not been impressive. The 'downward' slope of aging begins around 20 years old. Premature aging of one element of the body is usually responsible for premature death. The top 3 killers in the U.S. are cardiovascular disease, cancer, and cerebrovascular disease.

Alzheimer's disease is increasing, and not entirely because of increasing diagnosis. Five percent of people aged 65-74 will be affected. By age 85, the risk will rise to near 50%. Such figures are obviously disturbing to those of us who wish to extend our natural lifespans, while at the same time preserving our personal identity. Alzheimer's disease, and all forms of age-related dementia, amount to a terrible conflict in our plans. Should we try to live longer, and run greater risk of dementia? Or should we lean wholly on cryonics, a completely unproven technology? One can be sure there are no easy answers.

2007-10-13

7th Alcor Conference, October 5-7, 2007 Part I

Another wonderful Alcor conference!! Congratulations and thanks to all the organizers, speakers, and panelists. It was great meeting life extensionists and cryonicists from all over the world.

Friday
Arizona lobbyist Barry Aarons gave the welcome address. It is good to see Alcor's continuing political engagement, which Alcor needs to survive. But this time, there was a hint of something more than just survival expected from current elected leaders ... trying to get Alcor recognized as part of the biotechnology industry in Arizona.

Saturday
Susan Klein emceed. It was great seeing Bruce and Susan Klein, founders of the Immortality Institute, active at this event.

Steve Bridge, former Alcor president, spoke first. He introduced the tone and scope of the conference, clearing up misconceptions for those new to cryonics. We are not interested in cryonics because we are a hare-brained cult, or because we have an obsession with high technology or science fiction. We are interested in cryonics because we seriously want to preserve life.

Steve noted that fewer than 20 scientists in the world are working on cryonics today. Perhaps, as he noted, this is because early cryonicsts did not try hard enough to convince scientists to work on it. I think, however, scientists would have made up their own minds anyway. After it became clear that resuscitation from extremely low temperatures would not be easy, it was obviously not 'low hanging fruit.'

Scientists find big-goal projects intractable. How many cancer researchers think of their research as about a cure for cancer? At most, modestly, they think of their research as perhaps a small brick on the path toward a cure for cancer. They think of their research as positioned in the context of a more immediately tractable problem, of either a theoretical or a practical kind, a sub-goal.

What is a sub-goal for cryonics? Freezing organs for transplantation comes to mind, and it is here that most of the work so far has been done. Yet decades of failure have convinced the organ transplant field not to expect extremely long-term, extremely low-temperature storage of most organs any time soon. Yet there is the possibility that continuing advances in medicine and biology and biophysics will uncover possibilities for new approaches.

Steve also noted that the word 'dead' should be reserved for information-theoretic death, a point that was echoed throughout the conference by other speakers. But if we accept this consensus, what word should we use for the condition in which we would expect biostasis to be applied? In the case of terminal, incurable degenerative brain disorders, this does not even correspond to the fiction of legal death. Inevitable Impending Identity-Critical Information Loss? That would make an awkward acronym. :)

Steve also reminded us that we still do not know if cryonics preserves people. How do we know we are preserving identity? How do we know long-term memories and personality are being preserved? What are the physical correlates of identity in the brain? These questions are really the most fundamental of all. Even if low-temperature biostasis were reversible, if resuscitation from such a state were possible, would the patient be amnesiac? brain-damaged? insane? Information-theoretic criteria are not yet able to be framed in biological terms.

Next, Brian Wowk, Ph.D., from 21st Century Medicine, spoke. He reviewed the process of cryosuspension by vitrification and the theory behind it. The goal of vitrification is to prevent ice formation. In ideal cryonics cases, the brain may vitrify without ice formation, although ice may form elsewhere in the body (in a whole body case). In cryoprotection, 60% of the body's water is replaced by cryoprotectant ("anti-freeze" to prevent ice crystallization). Long-term potentiation (LTP), thought to be a mechanism involved in long-term memory, persists in vitrified brain slices, after rewarming, in an animal model. The machinery for forming memory, if not memory, survives vitrification.

Obstacles to reversing vitrification include cryoprotectant toxicity, ischemic damage, and fracturing. The latter could be solved by higher-temperature storage, though this would be more expensive, risky, and require more care. Methods for repairing damage at the cellular or tissue level (regeneration) need not require nanotechnology, and work on repairing or preventing cell/tissue damage is of course a continuing focus of mainstream medical research.

Stephen Van Sickle, current Alcor Executive Director, spoke next on Alcor's research. How do anti-ischemia drugs relate to cryoprotection? The Critical Care Research drug protocol has still not yet been verified with cryoprotection.

Alcor is setting up a cardiopulmonary bypass research lab with rats. Stephen noted that part of the biostasis protocol is already known to be reversible -- about 2 hours into blood washout and lowering of body temperature to around 2 degrees C. At some point during perfusion of cryoprotectant, though, the process becomes irreversible. It would be interesting to know when! And why. (note: cryoprotectant toxicity above).

Alcor is also continuing to develop intermediate temperature storage (ITS) to prevent fracturing. Unfortunately, fractures can occur well before safe long-term storage temperatures are reached. Sometimes fractures do NOT occur until almost liquid nitrogen temperatures, which suggest it is theoretically possible to avoid fractures with ITS. Alcor is now studying the problem with noninvasive visual imaging, as well as auditory detection. Alcor is also planning to use a fiber optic spectrometer to measure blood low (by near infrared/NIR) to try to measure perfusate volume and flow rate in brain, maybe modeling concentrations in the brain, and also perhaps to determine if there is ice formation in the brain by scattering from ice.

Next, Tanya Jones spoke. She emphasized the importance of stabilization (cooling, cardiopulmonary support, medications, and perfusion with organ preservation solutions). Only about half of Alcor's patients were stabilized. Those who were not were generally nonideal cases who were 'down' too long to initiate stabilization without causing more harm. This is a continuing problem -- that people don't get sick at convenient times and with plenty of advance warning! Stabilization buys between 24-48 hours worth of time to transport patient to Alcor for more cooling and longterm care.

Alcor is moving toward a largely automated whole body perfusion system with literal bells and whistles. Hopefully this will help prevent human error and assist in the gathering of high-quality data. Stabilization kits are also being reorganized, so that there are fewer boxes to fly out when necessary. Alcor continues to work on a stabilization network - working toward improved training and recruiting new medical personnel. About half of Alcor's U.S. patients are resident in California, with the rest mostly in Arizona, Florida, Texas, and New York. Alcor would eventually like to deploy 14 regional stabilization kits for the U.S. and worldwide, and conduct local training on the regional equipment.

Next, Ralph Merkle, Ph.D., spoke. He felt that cryonicists were being too conservative about cryopreservation preserving memory. (Why?) Ralph noted the slow pace of nanotechnology, but observed that resuscitation of cryonics patients was its most ambitious application. He estimated that it would be about 5 years before labs began experimental verification of some of the theoretical work he and Freitas have done. He said practical nanotechnology will result in a revolution in medicine. Cryonics revival will require mature nanotechnology, which in turn will require the funding of long-term system design, which is largely absent now. Almost all spending is on very near-term applications, he said. Nanotech research now is not focused on a goal, what to make with nanotechnology. Cryonics provides the answer, according to Ralph.

The next speaker was Dr. Michael West, a gerontologist and COB of Advanced Cell Technology (a regenerative medicine company) and former CEO of Geron Corporation, without a doubt the most prominent person to address a cryonics conference since I have been going to them. Listening to Michael West was certainly one of the high points of the conference for me.

Interestingly, his presentation touched not only on the technical concepts behind his research, but also the deep cultural, even mythological framework, in which such research might be understood. Perhaps he has developed this approach because of the fierce controversy surrounding human embryonic stem cells, which he and his colleagues were the first in the world to isolate. (On one slides, Michael wryly noted one of his embryonic stem cell lines that President George W. Bush had "blessed".)

Michael reminded the audience that the modern biological distinction between germ (reproductive) cell lines and somatic (regular body) cell lines exposes a dualism that hints at the biological origin of aging and death.

Originally, we may presume, all early life cells were, or at least tried to be, immortal. These early cells were predecessors of today's germ cells (and their renegade imitators, cancer cells) in that they had no fixed lifespan, repaired themselves, and reproduced indefinitely. In one way of thinking about it, somatic cells evolved to help germ cells survive and reproduce, but somatic cells were denied immortality, and this gave rise to death, which continues to beset us multicellular organisms.

Michael compared the differences between germ and somatic lines to the difference between the Greek concepts Zoe and Bios. These are two words for life, one the eternal life of nature, the other the temporary life of an individual person. The mythological analogues of Zoe were Demeter and Dionysus, two gods of the eternal fecundity of nature (in grain and grape harvests). Nature performs the immortal renewal of life. "How do we transfer immortality to individuals?" Michael asked. "How do we conduct 'immortality transfer'?"

Cells can immortalize, he noted. Telomeres shorten in somatic cells over time, whereas germ cells' telomeres don't. Telomeres at the end of chromosomes are like fuses burning down. They cause cells to senesce. Michael again drew comparisons from Greek mythology, this time to the Fates who drew out, measured, and cut the thread of life at its predetermined limit.

Michael and his collaborators have in fact engineered immortal cells. The enzyme telomerase can rebuild the telomeres as they decrease, so that they become effectively immortal. Embryonic stem cells in laboratory petri dishes actually start to form tissues, even brain tissue (neocortex).

Michael dispelled the myth that the cloned sheep Dolly was born with prematurely old telomeres. Untrue, he said. In fact, cow somatic cells, by nuclear transfer cloning, caused cells to OVER-reset, giving them even longer lifespans than normal. Human therapeutic cloning is possible, Michael said. Wakayama et al. (2000) showed in a mouse model that mice clones could have lengthened lifespan. Mitochondria can also be rejuvenated by nuclear transfer, and cells can be cloned so that not they are not just nuclear but also mitochondrial clones.

No one has yet cloned human embryonic stem cells by nuclear transfer, mainly because it is difficult. It has been done in other animals, though. Medical work on embryonic stem cell therapy includes new approaches to macular degeneration and vascular disease. There are so many types of cells that researchers are still studying them to determine how they make complex somatic cells.

Michael's final slide, of Isis and Osiris, was quite moving. In the Egyptian myth, Osiris is killed, but his wife Isis searches until she finds a way to revive him using the Cord of Life. In other words, love conquers death.

The next speaker was Aubrey De Grey, who kindly provided a NEW TALK. The topic was how leaders in various scientific fields and especially publication editors like himself could do more to educate scientists about the legal fiction of death and the possibility of seeing cryopreservation as life-saving critical care. "We have a moral duty to demystify the 'yuck factor,'" he said. It will be difficult to demystify the topic, but Aubrey believes it is possible. "A logical, fair argument is easier to make and most likely to succeed eventually."

Aubrey's presentation was followed by a panel from Alcor's Board of Directors. The most contentious issue raised was the possibility of having Alcor's membership elect its Board (it is currently a self-perpetuating Board). The panel gave a good argument that many special-purpose nonprofits with large assets such as museums or hospitals have self-perpetuating Boards, and a quick show of hands indicated that the majority of the audience (although they may not have been all Alcor members), approved of keeping thing the way they were. 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it.'

2007-09-22

The Slow Road Down 2

Well, that was a bit premature of me. I haven't had time to continue the line of thinking from my previous post.

But I can at least point out the obvious.

As you can see from the graph in the previous post, the final appearance is not so very different from the initial appearance. Even after 48 hours, the neural membranes, while indistinct, still seem to be intact. The nucleus and nucleolus may be damaged, but they are still visible. Nissl bodies (rough endoplasmic reticulum) may be being dismantled. Vacuoles emerge, perhaps the cell's attempt to quarantine emerging debris. The axons, while damaged, are still very identifiable.

The cell is in grave crisis. It would not spontaneously revive even with the resumption of circulaton and respiration after a few minutes, as we know from experience. But perhaps new therapies may be developed which could help either slow the damage to the cell or put it in a better position to repair itself, if for some reason circulation and respiration were to resume.

But if we accept the theory that identity-critical information is stored in synaptic circuitry, then the intracellular crisis is in some sense not key. In theory, if the objective were merely to preserve identity-critical information for the future, it might be adequate that the general external structure of the cell and its synaptic connections be preserved. Synapses may be flexibly "stored" in membranes or cytoskeleton, so that even significant distortions of the cell by generalized edema would not erase the "memory" of the memory, so to speak.

It would be useful to know how long-term memories and personality correlates are stored in the brain; for example, how long-term memories are 'consolidated' physically. If we knew the answer to this question we would be in a much better position to know what we were trying to preserve, and thus, we would be in a much better position to know how to preserve it.

If the 48-hour post-mortem brain in the figure in the previous post were to be preserved, would people in the indefinitely-distant future be able to identify the synaptic circuitry from what remained, copy/transfer this information to another medium, and then restore the patient (in this case, a dog) to life? Or, would people in a probably more distant future be able to use this same information to actually repair the heavily damaged cells, perhaps using nanoscale machines? If the unique, identity-critical information is retrievable, then, in theory, the non-unique structure (healthy, normal neurons) could be restored by however much effort.

2007-08-31

The Slow Road Down

For many unfortunate people (more all the time), death begins long before the heart stops beating and the lungs stop breathing. The unique personal identity is eroded by loss of memory and disordering of personality from aging, injury, or some other cause or condition.

But for those who manage to make it intact to prolonged cardiac arrest and cessation of breathing, how long does the brain last? How long is there anything left in the brain that future medical technology could use to bring the person back to who they were before?

A person can be brought back even today after 5 minutes, under the best circumstances. Slightly longer times are possible without brain damage if the head or whole body is cooled, by a procedure called clinically induced moderate hypothermia.

If more than 5 minutes have passed and hypothermia is not used, the person is in big trouble. Restarting the heartbeat and breathing can cause a serious brain injury called reperfusion injury. The body may continue heartbeat and breathing, but the brain may never fully recover. The brain may never even receive circulation from the heartbeat. People put on a ventilator may be "brain dead" in a true sense -- the brain is seriously injured and begins the process of death.

If a person is "lucky" enough to be treated as "dead" -- without reperfusion injury being introduced, the process of death proceeds at a pace determined, at least in part, by temperature. Heat provides energy to the various reactions taking place. If there is no circulation, the body's drop to ambient temperature actually helps slow the process. The body being put in a cooler at near freezing temperatures slows it even more.

From there begin a series of changes to the brain. A neat summary (though based on the brains of dogs) is the following:

(Figure from Haines, D. E., & Jenkins, T. W. J. Comp. Neur. 132: 405-418. Studies on the epithalamus: I. Morphology of post-mortem degeneration: The habenular nucleus in dog.)

In the next post I'll talk about the significance of the changes...

2007-08-25

An Adventure

I want to have the same last dream again,
The one where I wake up and I'm alive —
Just as the four walls close me within,
My eyes are opened up with pure sunlight.

I'm the first to know. My dearest friends,
Even if your hope has burned with time
Anything that is dead shall be re-grown,
And your vicious pain — your warning sign.
You will be fine.

Any type of love, it will be shown,
Like every single tree-reach for the sky.
If you're gonna fall , I'll let you know
That I will pick you up , like you for I.

I felt this thing I can't replace,
Where everyone was working for this goal,
Where all the children left without a trace,
Only to come back as pure as gold,
To recite this song.

And here we go . . .
Life’s waiting to begin,
Tonight.

I cannot live, I can’t breathe
Unless you do this with me.

Hey, uh, here I am,
And here we go.
Life’s waiting to begin,
Tonight.

Do this with me.
— Angels and Airwaves, "The Adventure" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dIZ0iVi4hmM

2007-08-11

Second Death

As you might have noticed from my profile avatar, I started this blog with quite a bit of optimism about the online virtual world, Second Life.

In the last few months, though, my enthusiasm has waned considerably. I have decided to try to put down into words the reasons why I am rarely in Second Life anymore, and why I don't expect to be there very frequently anymore in the future.

For one thing, I have tired of trying to get other people interested in trying out Second Life. I have found that, like cryonics, it simply is not a topic about which I can inspire much confidence in others. My recommendation is not good enough to attract the best and brightest people I know to try it out. Even for a moment.

Since one of the best applications of Second Life is for meetings, conferences, networking, gabbing, etc., this is a terrible drawback. Maybe someday the world will wake up to the advantages of virtual worlds and force themselves to learn how to use it -- kind of like they did for the World Wide Web (can anyone still remember how hard it was to get the average person to use a COMPUTER???). But I am not going to wait around wasting time till everyone else joins the party.

Second, I have come to notice several deep flaws of Second Life, and virtual worlds in general. I do not have much time to devote to Second Life, and I find this not just a coincidence, but a sign of how poorly virtual worlds integrate with everyday life. If virtual worlds do not help average people in everyday life do things they want to do better, then virtual worlds will never be accepted. As I said, I think virtual worlds already offer better teleconferencing than anything else, but since the world has so far refused to take notice, it may take some time to get this across. More importantly, the other uses that have been proposed for virtual worlds -- such as shopping, education, romantic mingling, sales -- are already better served by other media such as the 2-D Web or face-to-face. So far virtual worlds can't get past being novelty acts in these areas. Maybe it will require more sophisticated technology than just 3-D gaming tech to move beyond this impasse.

Lastly, Second Life has a wrong-headed business model, and already seems well on the way to being the AOL of virtual worlds. Although users in Second Life can create anything, they can't own anything. Because Linden Labs centralizes control of the virtual world around themselves, exercising the ability to delete entire university campuses at a whim, no one there will ever be able to feel safe investing time, money, and invention there. Users do not retain enough control over their creations, even when they rent ("buy") virtual island spaces for what it would cost to rent a home in real life. We all know where the evolution of virtual worlds is heading -- universal browsers with virtual spaces housed on the users' chosen servers, so that all virtual space can be privately and personally OWNED and where all virtual creations can likewise be owned, controlled, and backed up by users without getting permission from anyone else. By the time LL offers free space (the way virtual Disney already does), everyone will probably have moved on to somewhere else.

It is really a shame, considering the incredible effort that has gone into creating the many and varied creations of Second Life. We can only hope Linden Labs will do the honorable thing, back up their virtual world, and preserve it for users in the future to peruse for free, after their business model fails.

2007-07-21

Umbilical Cord to the Sun

Estimated total cost of a space elevator: $40 billion
Estimated total cost to date of U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq: $400+ billion

I have long been impressed by the notion of using a space elevator to ferry solar power to the Earth.

Barring the invention of better energy sources, Sol, our local star, will continue to be the biggest source of energy in our vicinity. The trouble is tapping it. Solar cells so far are very inefficient. It would be more logical to tap the energy at its source!

But getting into space the current way is very expensive, and this would defeat the purpose.

Thus, the need for a space elevator to allow energy collected around the sun to be ferried back to Earth to be used. Think of it as a very long umbilical cord for the Earth!

And the space elevator would also help humans move off Earth when they are ready, when they are able to modify their bodies (or adopt other embodiments) to live in off-Earth environments. They would find the energy collectors around the Sun ready for easy colonization nearby, and they would find the space elevator a convenient jumping off point.

The main objections to the space elevator are that 1) the materials with sufficient tensile strength don't exist yet, and 2) it would be too expensive. The answer to 1 it seems to me would be conventional R&D. The cost of that, and the answer to 2, is well...

The money seems to be available for other things of questionable value. It is a matter of priorities...

2007-06-23

Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Once again, opportunities for federally-funded research with new human embryonic stem cell lines has been thwarted in the United States by one man and a likely 1/3+ of the U.S. Congress.

Once again they have acted on their belief that it is more important to keep eight-celled cultures in medium, or simply destroy them, than to conduct research that might improve the lives, or even save the lives, of indisputably full human persons.

Where can such a point of view come from? This is not an argument about life. There is no dispute that an embryo is alive, just as the zygote is alive, the sperm and egg cells are alive, most cells in one's body are alive, and everything from bacteria to funguses are alive. No controversy arises from using bacteria or adult living cells in research.

This is also not an argument about human life. Again, embryos are indisputably human and alive, just as the cells in your thumb right now are indisputably human and alive. Yet using the cells in your thumb for research would not be controversial.

The difference between a cell in your thumb and the zygote, or fertilized egg cell, is that the latter is a totipotent cell, that is, under the typical circumstances under which it arises, it begins to divide and form specialized cells, all leading to the generation of a new human organism.

But the general scientific hunch is that the zygote is not different in its cellular contents from any other somatic cell in the human body. What is different about it is the way it is "programmed" for totipotency. The main point of research on embryonic stem cells is to understand and learn how to control this "programming" so that we can figure out how to heal cells and tissues, regenerate damaged tissues, and so on.

If the scientific hunch is right, any cell in your body could, in theory, be modified and programmed to become totipotent, and thus under the right circumstances, develop into a new human organism. The "miracle" of conception is close to being understood as a modification of a typical cell, using its own inner machinery, to unleash the capacity it inherently possesses to be able to form a new human organism.

As with many natural phenomena formerly considered miraculous, exposing the natural reality threatens the misunderstandings and illusions human societies have built up and protected over millennia. Although human beings have always decided the time and circumstances of procreative sex, the phenomenon of conception itself has been shrouded in ignorance until recently, so that it could be attributed to magical workings.

There are evidently people at the highest levels of federal government in the U.S. who believe in spirit beings. In particular, they believe in a spirit-being who pre-conceives each fully grown human persons in "his" mind, fashions a new "soul" for each new person, and then inserts this new soul into the single-celled zygote resulting from the sexual copula of two humans. It is painful to consider the naivete of this delusion, but even more so the harmful consequences following from believing it.

Although no one knows of any spirit-being which pre-knows human persons, parents who deliberately conceive by procreative sex or in vitro fertilization usually have a child in mind. Though the zygote has no "soul", the future child will have a conscious mind, a personality, memories, feelings, and personal identity, and all the other natural phenomena which lie behind the delusional concept of the "soul".

It is unfortunate that current reproductive technology is not able to produce just the embryo desired to be implanted, which would become the child the parents wanted. Because of lack of adequate research, we are still ignorant of the cellular mechanisms surrounding fertilization and making a fertilized egg ready for successful implantation and gestation.

It is, ironically, the failures of reproductive technology which have provided the embryos that could be used for studying embryonic stem cells.

But someday, the mechanisms for programming a cell for totipotency will be able to be understood. Then any cell in the adult human body will be able, by modification and programming, to be made into the practical equivalent of a zygote that could either produce new stem cells or perform other research functions, or if implanted in the right circumstances (a natural or artificial womb, for example), be developed into a new human organism. The ethical argument will thus not disappear even after reproductive technology is able to produce just the right number of healthy embryos for prospective parents.

Understanding the machinery of the human cell will certainly be awe-inspiring. But our understanding of reproduction will also, at the same time, be demystified. We will need to come to a realistic understanding of our cells and this realistic understanding will have to form the foundation for our ethical attitudes towards them.

2007-05-25

Conference: Advances in Human Cryopreservation, May 18-20, 2007 Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, U.S.A.

Notes Part 4 of 4

I can only vaguely reconstruct the great announcement at the end of Saturday’s banquet. I wasn’t taking notes, the announcement was very detailed, and I was beginning to suffer just a little fatigue from the day’s activities. So a caveat about everything I say about it.

An anonymous donor has funded a multimillion-dollar grant proposal by Greg Fahy to work toward successful reversible suspended animation. The 3-year project, staffed with half a dozen scientists in a new facility, will extend over 3 phases:

Phase 1 will identify an optimal method for vitrifying the body from a physical point of view in rabbits. Phase 2 will verify and extend Phase 1 results in larger mammals and possibly human cadavers donated for non-cryonics medical research. Phase 3 will work toward true suspended animation (biologically reversible whole body vitrification).

Greg made the case for whole-body work as a “pathway to medical acceptance/understanding” of cryonics and a convenient way to accelerate work on cryopreserving all individual organs.

Phase 1 itself is slated to take 3 years, and in essence seems to be an attempt to perfect vitrification itself (not its reversal). The problem so far seems to be that bodies don’t vitrify perfectly, evenly, in every nook and cranny. This will mean revisiting methods of perfusion, visualizing the results of vitrification by slices, and then focusing attention on problem areas of the body where ice or other damage occurs. The research project will also look into the consequences of “postmortem” delays, typical in cryonics cases. The research will require the construction of novel methods and equipment for slicing and imaging samples. The facility will also have its own scanning electron microscope.

As far as I know, until the last five years or so, true suspended animation was not a long-term goal even for researchers affiliated with cryonics. Even when considered as a distant possibility, it was approached in mincing steps by work on vitrifying individual organs (extending work done over three decades). This research project seems to finally vault toward the goal. In 3 years, with luck, we should have some idea of whether the overall approach using vitrification is likely feasible. At best, whole body vitrification will have been perfected (at least for rabbits!). At worst, relentless failure will force the researchers back to the drawing board.

Handouts at the conference included the beautiful, detailed reprint of the l’Arca magazine piece on the Timeship design. What once seemed an improbably fantastic edifice now seems to be still moving toward realization. Timeship is slated to hold not only thousands of human cryopreserved patients (in intermediate temperature storage), but also other biological samples of life from our era and research labs, all in a location (yet to be announced) safe from natural disasters.

Another handout was Matthew Sullivan’s article, “Diversifying Cryonics into Mainstream Corporate America”, offering various suggestions for professionalizing and medicalizing cryonics service providers by methods such as outsourcing and alignment with industry standards.

Conference: Advances in Human Cryopreservation, May 18-20, 2007 Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, U.S.A.

Notes Part 3 of 4

Note: These are just my summaries from my notes. As a layperson with bad handwriting and poor memory, I am sure I will have introduced errors that are not to be attributed to the speakers! Blame me not them if something is wrong or doesn’t make sense…

Rudi Hoffman kicked off a new sort of panel, one focused on the financial implications of cryonics. Rudi is the most prominent life insurance agent and financial planner for cryonicists. (Most cryonics arrangements are funded by an ordinary life insurance policy.) Rudi reminded us that dead people, in US law, have no legal standing.

Those who plan to become suspension patients can make arrangements for their post-resuscitation finances by forming trusts. The problems with trusts include malfeasance of the trustees, incomplete instructions, potential conflict of interest (between the trustee and the patient, e.g., with regard to spending the money on resuscitation), investment performance, tax liability issues, disgruntled “heirs”, inadequate funding, and government interference.

Rudi’s recommendations include getting professional advice, making an informed choice of trustees, updating your plan, and overfunding into multiple accounts. To be included among the latter, Rudi proposes a “3-legged stool”: the Hoffman Prototype Dynasty Trust, the Liechtenstein Reanimation Foundation, and the Alcor Personal Reanimation Trust.

Tanya Jones explained a bit more about the Alcor Personal Reanimation Trust, which is still in formation. It is envisioned as a master trust, with each patient having a “sub-trust” overseen by a “Conservator”. The trust would release funds to a “reanimated” individual if he/she meets certain conditions, such as having the “same body” or the “same brain”. Tough luck for modified clones, 3-d reprinted bodies, or uploads! Apparently, current legal language is simply not able to provide criteria for personal identity that would apply to ‘whole body emulations’.

Ben Best added that 20 US states now allow perpetual trusts (not, unfortunately, my own Florida).

Ben briefly alluded to the problems that would arise if legal death is not declared, which presumably would be the case if reversible suspended animation were ever widely recognized as feasible. One can only imagine the hurricane of legal and institutional (health care) changes that await us when that time comes.

The venerable Saul Kent opened with the best one-liner of the conference, summing up the progress on all his many life extension projects: “Everything is subject to delays, except for aging.”

Saul introduced a new initiative to work on the legal rights of cryopreserved patients, in particular: (1) the right to be maintained in cryopreservation; (2) the right to be revived; and (3) the right to retain all of his/her assets sufficient to accomplish (1) and (2). He recognized the unfortunate fact that this will be a long, difficult struggle. He also stated that he would like to see work toward new laws relating to cryopreservation itself – that would allow those pronounced terminally ill to be cryopreserved immediately (with appropriate safeguards) and that would provide for the patient to be officially recognized as *not dead* and as retaining his or her legal rights as a person. I have a feeling this will not come to pass until reversible suspended animation is acknowledged as close to being realized.

Saul went into unusual detail about the arrangements he is considering for his own revival. His trustees will have their work cut out for them, trying to make sure Saul is revived not too soon and not too late, making sure multiple attempts at revival are not precluded, and matching his criteria for establishing his personal identity. Among the latter are that the person in question is absolutely sure he is Saul, any remaining relatives and friends agree he is Saul, all available records of him are consistent with his being Saul, and the consensus of authorities in the “reanimation science” of the future agree he is Saul.

He will also “incentivize” his revival by providing for the creation of a “Committee of Protectors” (not the trustees) who will be paid only a little until Saul’s cryopreservation, then will be paid a bit more for regular meetings and reports after that, and then will be paid more than that for each attempt at his revival, with the ultimate payoff being for his successful reanimation. Apparently, small amounts of money would also be paid to unsuccessful reanimated pseudo-Sauls so that they could continue their lives as whatever-they-want-to-call-themselves, and such persons would even serve as advisors to the Committee of Protectors.

This made even my future-proofed head swim. All I can say against it, though, is that he seems to have “incentivized” multiple attempts at revival. Personally, I would prefer my “friends in the future” wait until they know what they are doing before they try to bring me back!

2007-05-24

Conference: Advances in Human Cryopreservation, May 18-20, 2007 Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, U.S.A.

Notes Part 2 of 4

Note: These are just my summaries from my notes. As a layperson with bad handwriting and poor memory, I am sure I will have introduced errors that are not to be attributed to the speakers! Blame me not them if something is wrong or doesn’t make sense…

Brian Wowk, Ph.D., brought up the subject of intermediate temperature storage (ITS). Yes, brains fracture at liquid nitrogen temperature, and fractures turn a brain that might somehow be thawed into a brain that would have to be left for nanoscale repair technology. Brian revisits Hugh Hixon’s “How Cold is Cold Enough?”, taking into account the effects of viscosity in vitrification, and finds safe long-term temperatures adjusted upwards. At -125 degrees C the fastest biochemical reaction, catalase, would take 30 billion years. Brian also finds a zone between ice nucleation and ice formation with M22 between -80 and -90 degrees C. Ice nucleation reorients water molecules, which doesn’t damage tissues directly, but it makes ice more likely to form during rewarming, and that would damage tissues. Brian estimates possible safe temperatures for storing vitrified patients at between 120-196 degrees C.

Tissue fracturing causes loss of information and increases the difficulty people in the future will encounter trying to repair it. Fractured patients will have to wait for uploading (to which some people object personally) or advanced nanoscale repair. Annealing – alternately cooling and warming – works with kidneys to avoid fracturing. ITS was used by Greg Fahy in transporting his vitrified corneas long-distance in a dry shipper.

Brian introduced the audience to a method for ITS using an aluminum/copper thermal conducting container, temperature controller, and dewars within dewars, with liquid nitrogen along the bottom. Controlled Intermediate Vapor Storage (CIVS) is the cornerstone of storage in the long-anticipated Timeship, designed by engineer Michael Iarocci and architect Steven Valentine.

The CIVS uses a very small amount of energy (10-20 watts; it can be run off a laptop’s UPS), has no moving parts, and it fails cold (that is, if the power stops, the container drops to liquid nitrogen temperature). CIVS is four times more efficient at using liquid nitrogen than Alcor’s current system. Presently, CIVS is for research only.

Next, Charles Platt spoke again, He said he would like to see more basic equipment for cryonics scattered around the country. Charles introduced the notion of Field Vitrification using a mobile operating room and transport by a modified ground vehicle or dry shipper for air transport.

Ben Best spoke about the Cryonics Institute and the recent public release of its vitrification formula.

Stephen Van Sickle gave us the numbers about Alcor – founded in 1972, 820 members, and 76 patients, and $2.5 million in the Patient Care Trust. Alcor’s current research plans include cardiovascular bypass studies using a rat model. Operating on rats’ vasculature is obviously a challenge in itself. The research is intended to aid whole body vitrification work.

Jim Yount introduced us to the mysterious third cryonics provider, the American Cryonics Society. One research interest of theirs is storing personal writings and pictures and information about places where patients lived, people patients knew, etc. They are also pursuing “integrated internment” or suspension in cemeteries, a notion strongly opposed by Brian Wowk for several reasons.

Conference: Advances in Human Cryopreservation, May 18-20, 2007 Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, U.S.A.


The conference was a wonderful opportunity to meet people involved in life extension and hear about the latest research. It truly is amazing, the dedication and persistence of people like Saul Kent, who has been involved since the 1960s I believe and who has contributed so much money to the effort, and people like Greg Fahy, who has been working on organ models of vitrification for over three decades. Some people, like Mike Darwin, seem to have spent their entire lives on this work. I am going to try to give my view of what happened at the conference and then follow with some reflections of my own on the issues raised.

Notes Part 1 of 4

Note: These are just my summaries from my notes. As a layperson with bad handwriting and poor memory, I am sure I will have introduced errors that are not to be attributed to the speakers! Blame me not them if something is wrong or doesn’t make sense…

Saturday morning, Charles Platt introduced the company, Suspended Animation (SA), of which he was Director until recently. SA focuses on standby, stabilization, and transport, with an emphasis on rapid intervention. SA does not house patients.

SA places the patient in an ice bath -- a vinyl-lined, wheeled stainless steel gurney. Ice water is circulated along the face and stomach by a submersible pump through plastic tubing. A mechanical "thumper" provides cardiopulmonary support. In the specially designed transport vehicle or a mortuary prep room, blood is removed and replaced with chilled perfusate.

Next Steve Harris, M.D., of Critical Care Research spoke about breakthroughs in rapid cooling of patients. In the 1980s, Peter Safar began studying the benefits of hypothermia using dogs. After human clinical trials published in 2002 showed double the survival rate, health providers have begun to induce hypothermia in victims of stroke or heart attack or other severe injury. This mild hypothermia helps to protect the brain and improve its prospects for recovery. This practice has caught on now only in hospitals in larger cities. Smaller hospital ICUs either use only an ice pack or provide no hypothermia.

Critical Care Research in southern California (funded by Life Extension Foundation), has been studying resuscitation from cardiac arrest in a dog model. The heart can be restarted after an hour if it is cooled to 18 degrees C., thus it is certainly not dead immediately. Neurons can also be resuscitated for a long time before apoptosis (self-destruction). They are not really alive; metabolism stops. But they are also not really dead!

Steve showed a photo of "Bob the Dog", who was clinically dead from cardiac arrest for 15 minutes, at room temperature. Afterwards, Bob was healthy and happy, and survived for many years.

According to Steve, the human body treats all injuries as -minor-, -penetrative-, and -infected- injuries, because historically those were the only injuries which animals could survive, and thus our bodies have evolved to handle such injuries. The body's injury response is thus -not- "intelligent". The body sends in white blood cells and does other things which may be counter-productive after cardiac arrest or similar major traumas. Protecting the brain with hypothermia may be compared to putting ice on a sprained ankle.

Many drugs have been investigated which can help protect the heart after arrest, but no drug is known to help protect the brain in recovery from insult. Some drugs have being studied in clinical trials, but so far they have been found to give little benefit in isolation. Each one contributes only a small effect since it targets only one small component of the body's maladaptive response. The Critical Care Research drug cocktail recommended for biostasis has not changed since the late 1990s, and derives from the dog studies.

Critical Care Research is exploring liquid ventillation to induce fast and easy cooling. In liquid ventillation, cold perfluorocarbon is pumped into the lungs. The brain can be cooled 7 degrees in 18 minutes with liquid ventillation. Liquid ventillation, or "lung lavage". is the fastest method of cooling down to 2 degrees C without damage. The lung lavage is synchonized with CPS breaths and requires only a small amount of perfluorocarbon.

In response to questions, it was stressed that bystanders should not attempt any action, even ice packs or cardiopulmonary support or locating heparin, until death has been pronounced and the coroner has signed off on the death. Otherwise, the bystander may create circumstances which call for an autopsy, and the autopsy will in turn severely compromise the patient's biostasis.

The Zoll AutoPulse is now replacing the Thumper -- it has a strap which fits across the entire upper body; it is battery-operated, quiet, and is being adapted for contact with water. CPS returns -warm- blood to the brain, reducing the cooling from ice water on the head: that is why liquid ventillation is helpful.

Next, Greg Fahy, of Twenty-First Century Medicine (21CM) talked about his unpublished 2007 research, partly funded by an NIH grant, to use vitrification to preserve corneas for transplantation after long-distance transport. Vitrified corneas transplanted with better results than unvitrified corneas in a monkey model.

Then he discussed his work with vitrifying rabbit kidneys. Kidneys were cooled to -45 degrees C and transplanted –in vivo-. But ice formed in the center (medulla) of the kidneys, apparently due to insufficient perfusion to this area which is relatively isolated in circulation. In addition, at 45 days’ vitrification, there was damage to one side of the kidney surface, damage Greg has named ‘surface viscoelastic injury (SVI). Greg speculated that SVI (apparently a kind of hemorrhage) might be caused by simultaneous stiffening and shrinking of the tissue there (analogous to the cracking problem at liquid nitrogen temperatures), and that different –loading techniques- (for perfusion) might affect SVI.

Greg also updated us on the study of the vitrified and thawed rat hippocampal slices. Looking for the ability to display electrical activity, he found 70% neural firing at up to 45 days, about the same as would be found in slices that had not been vitrified. He thus concludes that vitrification has no effect on neural firing or viability.

He also tested the ability of such slices to retain long-term potentiation (LTP) patterns after vitrification and rewarming, finding that the “memory response” did persist.

However, he reminded the audience that there has never been a demonstration of brain resuscitation after more than 3 hours of static cold storage, and that continuous hypothermic perfusion with good solutions was necessary to raise the time to even 4-6 hours. He has conducted 250 brain experiments since 2003, and that even with only 50% M22 (really poor perfusion with the cryoprotectant solution), still no ice foms in the brain. For some reason, the brains vitrify even though that percent solution would not vitrify in a test tube.

Shrinkage of the brain is governed by laws of osmosis (Boyle-van’t Hoff Plot). Greg asserts that brain shrinkage may be “more friend than foe,” although one supposes there must be a minimum safe cell volume. Tests with putting cryoprotectant through the blood-brain barrier (BBB), which it normally does not penetrate, actually leads to –worse- results for the brain. For some reason, M22 washout itself seems to cause significant brain damage (analogous to SVI?).

2007-05-13

Suspended Animation Conference May 18-22



I'll be at the Suspended Animation conference in Fort Lauderdale, Florida this weekend. I will post my impressions here. Eagerly looking forward to all the new information on new methods and approaches to cryopreservation, vitrification, and wealth preservation for the cryopreserved.

The end of death is drawing nigh. How sad it is that so few people realize their deliverance is close at hand.