IEET > Vision > Bioculture > Directors > Giulio Prisco > HealthLongevity > Enablement > Innovation > Neuroscience
The Small Mammal Brain Preservation Prize Has Been Won
Giulio Prisco   Feb 9, 2016   Turing Church  

The Brain Preservation Foundation (BPF) announced that the Small Mammal Brain Preservation Prize has officially been won. The spectacular result achieved by 21st Century Medicine researchers provides the first demonstration that near-perfect, long-term structural preservation of an intact mammalian brain is achievable.

A team from 21st Century Medicine, spearheaded by recent MIT graduate Robert McIntyre, has discovered a way to preserve the delicate neural circuits of an intact rabbit brain for very long-term storage using a combination of chemical fixation and cryogenic cooling. Proof of this accomplishment, and the full “Aldehyde-Stabilized Cryopreservation” (ASC) protocol, was recently published in the journal Cryobiology and has been independently verified by the BPF through extensive electron microscopic examination conducted by the two official judges of the prize: BPF President Ken Hayworth and Princeton neuroscience professor Sebastian Seung, author of “Connectome: How the Brain’s Wiring Makes Us Who We Are.”

“Every neuron and synapse looks beautifully preserved across the entire brain,” said Hayworth. “Simply amazing given that I held in my hand this very same brain when it was frozen solid… This is not your father’s cryonics.”

The key breakthrough was the quick perfusion of a deadly chemical fixative (glutaraldehyde) through the brain’s vascular system, rapidly stopping metabolic decay and fixing proteins in place by covalent crosslinks. This stabilized the tissue and, along with other chemicals, enabled cryoprotectants to be perfused at an optimal temperature and rate. The result was an intact rabbit brain filled with such a high concentration of cryoprotectants that it could be stored as a solid “vitrified” block at a temperature of -135 degrees Celsius.

A BPF spokesman emphasized that a mouse brain entry submitted by Max Planck researcher Shawn Mikula also came extremely close to meeting the prize requirements. Dr. Mikula’s laboratory is attempting to perfect not only brain preservation (using a different method based on chemical fixation and plastic embedding) but whole brain electron microscopic imaging as well.

The BPF will now focus on the final Large Mammal phase of the contest, which requires an intact pig brain to be preserved with similar fidelity in a manner that could be adapted to human patients. The 21st Century Medicine team has recently submitted to the BPF such a preserved pig brain for official evaluation. Lead researcher Robert McIntyre has started Nectome to further develop this method.

Preserving the “connectome,” the delicate pattern of neural connections that encodes a person’s memory and identity, could someday in the future permit nanometer-scale scanning of a preserved brain for mind uploading. As I wrote shortly after the first announcement of the Brain Preservation Prize in 2010, brain preservation methods optimized for future nanoscale scanning and mind uploading – “cryonics for uploaders” – could be a good alternative to traditional cryonics for those who consider mind uploading as a viable form of identity preservation.

A surprisingly open-minded Scientific American article by Michael Shermer, the publisher of Skeptic, titled “Can Our Minds Live Forever?,” features Ken Hayworth, Robert McIntyre, and 21st Century Medicine’s chief research scientist Gregory M. Fahy.

“We are destined to eventually replace our biological bodies and minds with optimally designed synthetic ones. And the result will be a far healthier, smarter and happier race of posthumans poised to explore and colonize the universe,” Hayworth told Shermer, who commented “It sounds utopian, but there’s something deeply moving in this meliorism” and concluded “Per audacia ad astra.”

Hayworth admitted that a “future of uploaded posthumans is probably centuries away.” Nevertheless, he added, “I am virtually certain that mind uploading is possible.”

“Once cut into ultrathin slices, [Hayworth’s] brain will be imaged and analyzed to find his connectome,” imagines Seung in the “Connectome” book. “The information will be used to create a computer simulation of Hayworth, one that thinks and feels like the real thing.”

“Personally, I think that a sufficiently accurate brain simulation would be conscious,” Seung adds.

Hundreds of neuroscience papers have detailed how memory and personality are encoded structurally in synaptic connections, and recent advances in connectome imaging and brain simulation can be seen as a preview of the synthetic revival technologies to come. Five years after the launch of the Brain Preservation Prize, the newly perfected ASC technique has been able to demonstrate (to the BPF’s satisfaction) preservation of the connectome.

“The Prize was awarded on the basis of the company’s ability to almost perfectly preserve the ultrastructure of a whole rabbit brain after cooling to and rewarming from a temperature below the glass transition temperature of the vitrified brain,” reads a special announcement from 21st Century Medicine (21CM). The company mentions revival by uploading or “by means of biological repairs carried out with future tools from the field of medical nanotechnology” among the possible applications of ASC technology, but takes due distance for plausible deniability. “While 21CM firmly believes in personal choice and respects the views of all honest people, we are not a cryonics company and as such do not endorse any form of cryonics,” reads the conclusion of the announcement.

Image: Robert McIntyre taking rabbit brain out of -135oC freezer unit after overnight storage. Brain and block of CPA is completely solid. (Photographed and witnessed by Kenneth Hayworth.)

Giulio Prisco is a writer, technology expert, futurist and transhumanist. A former manager in European science and technology centers, he writes and speaks on a wide range of topics, including science, information technology, emerging technologies, virtual worlds, space exploration and future studies. He serves as President of the Italian Transhumanist Association.



1. I asked Ken: “If the positive results will be confirmed by the large mammal prize, a new “cryonics for uploaders” option for human patients could be ready after some more work. What role will the Brain Preservation Foundation play? Are you discussing with Alcor, the Cryonics Institute, and/or new cryonic providers? What can we expect? What could be the timeline?

I think Ken received lots of similar questions. He says: “many people have recently asked me ‘Should cryonics service organizations immediately start offering this new ASC procedure to their ‘patients’?’ My personal answer (speaking for myself, not on behalf of the BPF) has been a steadfast NO. More in Ken’s thoughtful blog post titled “Opinion: The prize win is a vindication of the idea of cryonics, not of unaccountable cryonics service organizations”:
I will write down my comments to Ken’s post.

2. The next Turing Church meeting in Second Life on Sunday Feb. 14 will be dedicated to discussing the Brain Preservation news. See here for time and access coordinates:

3. Half an hour ago I had a very sad reminder of the urgency of developments (scientific, technical, operational, legal…) in cryonics. A relatively young man, a cryonic activist and a friend, died suddenly. His local friends are fighting against the clock to help achieving his dream of being cryonically preserved. More later.

This is my comment to Ken Hayworth’s post:
“Opinion: The prize win is a vindication of the idea of cryonics, not of unaccountable cryonics service organizations”


Ken, congratulations to the Brain Preservation Foundation and 21st Century Medicine, and also to the Max Planck team, for this spectacular result. As you say, “The fact that the ASC procedure has won the brain preservation prize should rightly be seen as a vindication of the central idea of cryonics - the brain’s delicate circuitry underlying memory and personality CAN in fact be preserved indefinitely, potentially serving as a lifesaving bridge to future revival technologies.” I have no doubts that upcoming advances, based on or inspired by the scientific work done for the Brain Preservation Prize, will someday permit establishing operational “cryonics for uploaders” procedures for human patients, based on solid science.

As a scientist, I totally agree that the cautious step by step approach that you recommend is the scientifically correct approach, and I see the danger that “A rush to human application may sound humanitarian, but I believe it will only result in further delaying the eventual, inevitable embracing of cryonics (and other methods of brain preservation) by mainstream science and medicine.”

But as a person I can’t ignore the fact that we are talking of human beings here. For terminal patients with a short life expectancy, even a remote chance is better than no chance. Even more to the point: a relatively young cryonics activist, a friend of mine, died suddenly only a few hours ago. His local friends are fighting against the clock to realize his cryonic preservation dream. I have no power to choose what to do with his brain. But if I had such power, I would choose the best of the available options, even if it doesn’t fully persuade the scientist in me. Why? Because it’s what HE wanted (and I guess I would want the same), doesn’t harm anyone else, and of course it’s no risk to him since the only alternative is permanent death.

I would choose the best of the available options, because I can’t choose the best of the unavailable option. But if a new option, scientifically more solid than those currently on the table, were available, I would choose that.

I am not recommending that the BPF should rush to human applications or short circuit the entire scientific process. Actually, as a BPF advisor, I think yours should be the official position of the BPF. But at the same time I would welcome more adventurous initiatives by other parties, including the existing cryonics organizations, to provide last-chance options to human patients with nothing to lose.

This is essentially equivalent to the issue of clinical trials and lengthy approval processes for new drugs. I think having reputable scientific organizations and official bodies than insist on scientifically rigorous tests of proposed new therapies before making such therapies available to the public at large is good, but at the same time I think the availability of last-chance, not-(yet)-mainstream options to terminal patients, perhaps administered in borderline clinics in unregulated jurisdictions, is also good. Let thousands flowers bloom.

The next Turing Church meeting in Second Life on Sunday, February 14,
will feature a discussion of the recent Brain Preservation Foundation
announcement: the Small Mammal Brain Preservation Prize has officially
been won. The spectacular result achieved by 21st Century Medicine
researchers provides the first demonstration that near-perfect,
long-term structural preservation of an intact mammalian brain is

YOUR COMMENT Login or Register to post a comment.

Next entry: Small Mammalian Brain Prize Winner!

Previous entry: The Longevity Dividend