With cryogenics, scientists want to circumvent death – 03/30/2024 – Science

With cryogenics, scientists want to circumvent death – 03/30/2024 – Science


At 30 years old, Vinícius Vilela likes it when people say he looks younger than he is. “I take care of myself a lot,” he says, adding that he values ​​life a lot. This appreciation is so much that the software developer will have his body frozen after his death in the hope of being revived one day.

Vilela, who lives in Canada but was born in São Paulo, is one of the members of Alcor, an organization based in the United States that uses cryonics on the bodies of people who have died. Maybe one day it will be possible to revive them. But for now, everything is just science fiction, Vilela acknowledges. “Nowadays, it’s impossible.”

Carla Regina Alves, coordinator of the Multi-User Cryogenics Laboratory at UFF (Universidade Federal Fluminense) and with no relationship with Alcor, explains that the technique of freezing organic matter begins with the production of liquid nitrogen, an area in which she works at the university.

Liquid nitrogen is made from nitrogen found in the air. After being captured by specific machines, the substance is transformed into liquid form, which remains at -196ºC. It is this liquid that makes it possible to cool biological materials, something that is not done in the laboratory coordinated by Alves, since her job is only to supply the element to other institutions.

In Brazil, there is no known laboratory that offers a body freezing service with the promise of resuscitating it in the future. This technique, however, is used for other purposes, such as preserving eggs and sperm. “The success of freezing is already a fact,” says Alves.

The biggest problem in the case of cryogenics of human bodies or organs is defrosting. For simpler materials, like cells, it is easier to thaw without causing substantial damage. The same cannot be said about the human body.

“In such a complex organism, […] If this defrosting is not done in a way to preserve the material, this could cause some type of damage that is still unknown”, says the UFF researcher.

This is also a point that worries James Arrowold, co-president of Alcor. He confirms that it is not yet known how to defrost without creating problems in more complex organs. But that doesn’t discourage him – Alcor finances research to try to resolve the issue.

“Resuscitation technology must first be developed on smaller scales, such as for organs such as kidneys, which Alcor understands must occur first and therefore supports research into incremental steps,” he says.

With this development, it may be possible to solve how to thaw the brain, which is the most ambitious goal, due to the difficulty of not causing damage to the organ, but also very important in the objective of bringing someone back to life. “The goal is to access the brain, the memories, the personality,” says Arrowold.

And the price to pay for this service, even with no guarantee of what will happen in the future, is high. At Alcor, it exceeds R$1 million.

In the case of Vilela, the software developer, he says he took out life insurance that ensures the payment of the costs of his body’s cryonics.

And, despite so many uncertainties, he remains confident that, one day, the defrosting dilemma will be overcome. “Today, they think it’s crazy […] freeze people to come back to life. Okay, today it’s crazy, but maybe one day it will be possible, and if it is, I’d like to be a part of it.”

But he also says he believes that medicine needs to advance and improve the quality of life for a person’s supposed resurrection to really be interesting. After all, Vilela continues, “there is no point in bringing back a person who has died so that their entire body can be ‘disturbed'”.

And, in a way, this is exactly what Karl Lenhard Rudolph researches. He has no involvement with cryonics – in fact, he doesn’t believe the technique will be successful for complex organisms. Rudolph is head of the stem cell and metabolism study group at the Leibniz Institute on Aging – Fritz Lipmann Institute (FLI), in Germany.

In this organization, different research is carried out to try to prolong human life and improve the quality of life in the face of aging. And one of these methods is following a restrictive diet. According to Rudulph, eating around 70% of what a person would normally eat can help increase longevity.

The explanation of why this happens involves the metabolism and development of the human organism. Although important, both procedures have side effects. The metabolic process, for example, causes oxidation in the body, generating DNA damage. And, when eating, a person’s metabolism is activated – that is, eating less would be a solution to partially avoid this damage.

Studies in mice have indicated that a restrictive diet is associated with a 20% to 30% increase in the life expectancy of these animals, says Rudolph. However, evidence still needs to increase and include research on humans. Furthermore, studies already carried out show that this diet needs to be adopted at a young age and maintained for the rest of your life, which is a challenge.

Another line of research involves human stomach bacteria. The presence of these beings is important for the proper functioning of a person’s body. However, studies have observed that, over the years, this complex system of bacteria changes, which can cause an imbalance and, consequently, increase inflammation in the human body. “The aging process kind of accelerates,” summarizes Rudolph.

One possibility to overcome this situation is to transfer bacteria from a younger person to an older person. Studies still need to be done in humans, but at least in fish the technique seems to work. “In fish, it has already been demonstrated that it is possible to transplant bacteria from the intestine of young [em animais mais velhos]and the fish live longer,” says Rudolph.

There are still other methods to deal with aging, and one of them includes genetics. Mayana Zatz investigates the subject at the Center for Human Genome and Stem Cell Studies (CEGH-CEL). The institution is linked to the São Paulo State Research Support Foundation (Fapesp) as it is a Research, Innovation and Dissemination Center (Cepid).

The study coordinated by Zatz works with elderly people who are resistant to different health problems, such as Covid-19. “These people have resistance genes, they can withstand any challenge from the environment.”

The idea is to understand which genes are associated with this characteristic. The technique is based on the principle of cellular reprogramming, in which, from the blood, cells are reprogrammed to the embryonic state and the genetic lineage of resistant people is studied. So, it is understood which genes are associated with resistance or what they produce to cause this effect.

The objective is that, in the future, it will be possible to make changes to individuals who do not naturally have these genes related to resistance. In other words, it would be possible to transmit this characteristic to the general population, which would avoid health problems and, consequently, increase longevity.

The area is the subject of study not only by Zatz’s group, as similar research is taking place around the world. But, so far, it is an idea for the future – the studies are preliminary and there is still a long way to go to prolong human life, whether through this method or others.


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