Deep freeze downunder for a second shot at life

By Greg Ansley

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

The world's second cryonics facility outside the United States is expected to be operating in regional Australia within two years, storing bodies in the expectation that at some stage in the future science will be able to bring them back to life.

Stasis Systems, a not-for-profit company, has the 10 initial investors - one of them an unnamed New Zealander - needed to start work on a "low-key, warehouse-type" facility to preserve bodies at cryogenic temperatures of minus 196°C.

The site, most likely in New South Wales, will be selected for low risk of disasters such as earthquakes and bushfires and maintained by a corporate structure designed as far as possible to survive as long as the facility.

Only one other cryogenic facility, KrioRus in Russia, exists outside the US, where two major organisations, Alcor and the Cryonics Institute, operate.

More than 250 people have been cryonically preserved by these organisations, with about 2000 more signing contracts for the future storage of their bodies.

Stasis Systems secretary Matt Fisher said the Australian facility would be designed to expand with demand, initially providing for 60 bodies stored in six "thermos-like" units. Its target market is Australia and New Zealand.

The hope of resurrection lies in the future development of technology capable of overcoming present barriers that include the inability to extend rejuvenation beyond single cells, and to then develop repairs for the accumulated damage of ageing and disease at the molecular level.

Stasis accepts there are no guarantees cryonics will work.

But Fisher and Stasis founders Mark Milton, a former senior PricewaterhouseCoopers IT specialist and international radiology manager, and Peter Tsolakides, a former oil and capital markets executive, have sufficient confidence to put their money (and hopes of a second life) behind it.

Stasis says it is already possible to preserve bodies for decades without detectable generation and that advances in medicine show no signs of slowing down.

"It's not pseudo-science, like psychics and homeopathy," the company says. "It's proto-science, like preparing to go to Mars."

Fisher said extensive research was being conducted around the world into organ storage and transplants.

"If you could freeze and store transplantable organs you'd solve the availability crisis overnight," he said.

"From there it's a short step to whole-body rejuvenation."

Fisher also said it was likely that brains could eventually be rejuvenated without loss of memory or personality.

He said hypothermic suspension was already used in brain surgery, blocking blood flow and electrical activity without producing problems after the operation, providing strong evidence that similar results could be achieved for cryonic suspension.

Once the Stasis facility is operating, people must be legally declared dead before their bodies are preserved, employing new techniques to overcome earlier problems that could cause the formation of ice in the body and brain, damaging cells.

Stasis will use a system called vitrification, based on chemicals called cryoprotectants that prevent the formation of ice crystals at extremely low temperatures.

Fisher said that once the temperature fell below a critical range all molecular and cellular activity ceased, creating a "glass-like substance".

The 10 initial investors each put in A$50,000 ($60,900).

Others will pay A$70,000, roughly 10 times the average cost of a funeral in Australia, but well below the US$200,000 ($238,180) charged by America's Alcor.

Fisher said the charge would be put into trust to cover the costs of ongoing storage.

- NZ Herald

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