There really is a thing as a small mammalian brain freezing contest, and the winners enjoyed a scientific first in the preservation of a whole brain with working synapses following the warming process.
Walt Disney and his famous antisemitism poised for a return?
There are a number of reasons that this isn’t going to happen. First, Walt Disney’s cryogenically frozen body was never placed beneath the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. In fact, he was cremated two months before the first known cryogenic freezing of a body occurred in 1967, turns out that it was a couple of Disney animators playing a final prank on their boss that spread this urban legend. Additionally, a number of documentaries in the last five years have essentially cleared Disney of antisemitism claims that were made for year.
Beyond that, the science is a long ways away from reality While a team of scientists did outline their achievement in synapse preservation using cryogenics in the journal Cryobiology this week, they will be the first to tell you that the technique they used, well, won’t work for brain preservation.
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Cryogenic brain freezing first tested on a rabbit
So, no Walt Disney, but scientists at 21st Century Medicine, who led the research behind the paper did successfully freeze a rabbit’s brain, and completely preserve the junctions of nerve cells or synaptic connections.
“This research is a first because it works on whole brains and preserves all of the synaptic details,” Robert McIntyre recently told the Huffington Post. “Previous techniques, such as resin embedding, are only able to preserve detailed synaptic information in small brain slices.”
Rather that using resin embedding, the scientists turned to a a new chemical technique called Aldehyde-stabilized cryopreservation, or ASC, which combines both cryogenic cooling and chemical fixation. Keep in mind, during this process they were working with dead rabbit brain tissue and were concentrating on preserving synapsis, which after rewarming the brain it was sliced and observed through an electron microscope; sure enough, they preserved the all the connections. This according to Dr. Michael Cerullo, a psychiatrist at the Virginia-based Brain Preservation Foundationh, which sponsored the contest.
The first step in ASC is to bind the proteins in the brain together using an oily liquid called glutaraldehyde. Next the brain was given a treatment of ethylene glycol to protect the brain from the ensuing extreme cold. Ethylene glycol is a antifreeze that you might see used on an episode of “Ice Road Truckers.”
The brain was then cooled to -211 degrees Fahrenheit, essentially turning into a glass-like state.
“Ice crystals never form because the ethylene glycol completely inhibits ice crystal formation,” McIntyre said. “At -135 degrees Celsius, the brain can be stored for centuries without further decay.”
After the cryogenic freeze
In order to examine whether the synapsis survived its trip reminiscent of Han Solo’s, the brain was rewarmed and sliced.
“Every neuron and synapse looks beautifully preserved across the entire brain. Simply amazing given that I held in my hand this very same brain when it was vitrified glassy solid,” BPF president Dr. Kenneth Hayworth said in a statement. “This is not your father’s cryonics.”
McIntyre and his colleague Dr. Gregory Fahy, vice president and chief scientific officer at 21st Century Medicine, took home nearly $27,000 for their win and demonstration of ASC.
Once again, ASC won’t work on a human brain for preservation but could allow neurobiologists to preserve brain material, outside of tissue, indefinitely.
“I think that ASC could eventually lead the way to preserving memories in human brains. But using it for a big thing like that requires commensurately big evidence to support it,” McIntyre said after the win.
“It’s important in general because the level of detail that’s preserved with ASC might be sufficient to preserve all of the memories of an individual brain,” he added. “This is something that needs to be carefully discussed by the neuroscience community.”
The next contest from BPF will likely involve a larger mammalian brain, most likely a pig.