Date: Thu, 12 Nov 1998 07:46:44 -0800
From: Peter Merel <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: The 21CM Conference and Why no one is talking about it.
First off I have to say it was most peculiar and enjoyable to meet in the flesh so many folk I've corresponded with for years. Best regards to all of you. What follows is just my unschooled impressions - don't go investing just on my say-so.
So whappened? The latter half of the morning was a presentation by Mike Darwin of his successes in mitigating ischemic damage through chilled fluorocarbon breathing. Mike's now got 50% of his dogs surviving 17 minutes of *warm* ischemia without any effect, the other 50% experiencing a mild cognitive impairment. He's shooting for 30 minutes. How does it work? The analogy he used a couple of times was putting ice on a burned thumb - if you do this quick, you don't get the swelling, pain or injury that you get otherwise. Apparently the same is true for brains.
There's a lot more to what Mike presented, but the upshot is that if this work were applied to humans, it would dramatically increase survival rates from sudden heart attacks. Many hundreds of thousands of lives a year would be saved. The downside is FDA regulations make this a long term prospect only - it'll be many many years of red tape, and maybe never, that Americans will actually benefit from Mike's pioneering work. Non-americans may be luckier. Mike showed some CAD mockups of a commercial unit that would implement his protocols, and I get the impression that discussions are under way to mass-produce the things for use overseas.
But the wonders were truly in the first half of the morning. Fahey and Wowk have got something wonderful happening. They've got a series of new cryoprotectants with orders of magnitude less toxicity, better vitrifying power, better permeability, and better stability than anything in the literature. They're combining these with a synthetic polymer similar to fish and beetle antifreeze proteins to ward off devitrification on warming.
The upshot is something that, at very low concentrations too, actually seems to do the trick both with cooling and warming without any fancy external gear to increase the rates - no RF warming, and conventional rates of cooling. What's more they feel they may even get the glass transition to occur at higher temperatures than dry-ice freezing, so no more liquid nitrogen ... hell, there are so many still-unexplored research avenues in what they're doing, if it all works out, maybe even permafrost or a conventional meat locker might be okay for short term storage (they didn't say that!).
Most of their experiments so far were with rabbit kidneys and human sperm, but the most dramatic stuff they showed was two experiments done just last week with rabbit brains. They showed the micrographs and compared them with the infamous ones that made a non-cryonicist out of Mike Darwin.
You folk know I'm no biologist. I know a bit of parlour neurology, but I'm basically pig-ignorant. Still I have eyes: these new and very very early experiments - really just shots in the dark - preserved many orders of magnitude more structure on all scales than modern techniques. Everything from the molecular guts of axons up to the macrostructure looked essentially intact. Compared with the usual torn-and-minced micrographs this was just stunning.
The most dramatic moment of the day occurred when a member of the audience asked Brian Wowk how long it would take to scale this up to whole bodies. Brian said, "a very long time". Mike Darwin chimed in, "no, I have to disagree with Brian. Given these new results I just don't think it's all that hard ..." You could hear the jaws dropping all around the room. Not a pretty sound, mind you ...
As to why no one is talking, I suppose they're all waiting for prospectuses. Having just bought a new house for Y2K I have bugger-all to invest, but FWIW I sure wish I did. Kent and Falloon must be over the moon - there seem to be many billions in conventional applications of this work quite apart from the cryonics potential. And Fahey says they've achieved all this in just 5 months of active work.