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Freezing and unfreezing people may soon become a reality

Science fiction writers have been writing stories about travel in space for many decades, when the ship’s crew is in special capsules, where their bodies are either frozen or put into a state of deep anabiosis (hibernation).

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Cryonics could also be successfully applied to sick people, whose bodies could be frozen with a view to thawing them in the future, once a suitable cure is discovered. Unfortunately, science has not yet come up with a method for successfully defrosting a living human body after freezing.

The fact is that at low temperatures, cell tissue is irreversibly destroyed. However, recently, scientists from China were able to get a little closer to the dreams of science fiction writers – they managed to unfreeze frozen human brain tissue and return it to “life,” that is, to avoid cell death.

The experiment, which is already being called a breakthrough, was carried out by Dr. Zhicheng Shao and his colleagues from Fudan University in Shanghai.

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First, they grew a model of the human brain from stem cells, called an organoid, in the laboratory. A very small model, actually just a collection of brain cells that developed over three weeks, turning into different types of brain cells.

They then immersed this brain tissue in special substances, which included sugar and antifreeze. And then they put it all in liquid nitrogen for 24 hours to freeze it. A day later, the sample was taken out and thawed, checking how many cells died and how many were saved.

The experiment was repeated many times and in the end the scientists managed to find the right combination of substances that allowed the brain tissue to remain as viable as possible after freezing.

This life-saving chemical mixture was codenamed “MEDY”, which is an acronym for four key components – methylcellulose, ethylene glycol, DMSO and Y27632.

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Further observation showed that the Medy mixture not only saved brain tissue from death when frozen, but left it in such good condition that the tissue continued to grow after thawing for another 150 days.

Inspired by this success, scientists decided to conduct a similar experiment on the tissues of a real human brain. They took tiny samples of brain tissue from a child born with epilepsy and did the same thing with them as they had done with the laboratory organoid.

It turned out that this living human brain tissue placed in “Medy” was also successfully preserved after defrosting and it continued to remain active for another 2 weeks after the experiment.

“Fresh, viable human brain tissue with naturally occurring pathological features is a more reliable model for studying neural diseases [than organoids].

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“However, due to limited availability and manipulability, cryopreservation and reconstruction of living brain tissue with certain pathological features remains extremely challenging as it is difficult to maintain the survival of large numbers of functional neurons.

“Therefore, it is extremely important to develop a reliable technology for cryopreservation of fresh viable human brain tissue and brain organoids, which can be used to study the pathological mechanisms of brain diseases, organoid transplantation for traumatic brain injuries and/or drug development,” the authors of the experiment write in their work published in the journal Cell Reports Methods.

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Jake Carter

Jake Carter is a researcher and a prolific writer who has been fascinated by science and the unexplained since childhood. He is always eager to share his findings and insights with the readers of anomalien.com, a website he created in 2013.