Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Are We Closer to Viable Long-Term Freezing for Organs and People?

Once we are able to viably freeze and thaw living organs and whole animals, without damage or injury, we will be able to plan for the targeted freezing and thawing of living humans for purposes of extended survival.

A technology that has come from the frozen sushi industry in Japan is being studied for possible application to living animals and human organs such as hearts, livers, lungs, and kidneys.
A technology used to freeze sushi is solving a dilemma for organ storage. By borrowing tech used to preserve high-end food delicacies, a Hiroshima University research group proved it possible to safely freeze whole teeth and their delicate attaching tissues. As long as the freezer stays cold, the folks at Hiroshima U. think your teeth could be stored for 40 years, no problem.

But the sushi-storage system isn’t a one trick pony: internal organs could be next thanks to the magic of supercooling. In typical cryo-storage, fast freezing of organs requires poisonous levels of anti-freeze, and let’s face it, no one wants a poisoned kidney transplanted into their body. But slower freezing causes cell popping ice crystals to form.

So, what do you do to prevent ice crystals during slow freezing? Use magnets. ABI is the Japanese company producing the freezer system. ABI’s “Cells Alive System” (CAS) vibrates water with magnetic fields, preventing freezing, even at supercool temperatures of -10 degrees Celsius (According to the Patent.) When the field is turned off, the water in the food instantly freezes. No time for ice growth means no Freddy Krueger action on frozen organs.

...The transition of this tech from food to longevity science is slowly evolving, but the steps forward are real. You can, right now, pay to store your teeth. Hiroshima University tested the cooling technology for teeth, and uses ABI CAS freezer tech at The Teeth Bank, the world’s first commercial tooth bank. Dr. Toshitsugu Kawata, a Hiroshima University professor who has done extensive research at the Teeth Bank, helped prove that CAS is a viable technology to preserve teeth. Spare teeth used to be worthless medical waste. Now, removed wisdom teeth aren’t garbage, they can be frozen and re-implanted at any point during your life.

...The founder of the ABI Corporation and its CAS freezer, Norio Owada (known internationally as “Mr. Freeze,”) is actively pursuing medical advances. There’s a hodgepodge of reports out there about what’s being done. According to various sources, Mr. Freeze is collaborating with 40 researchers to translate their work with teeth and sushi to hearts, nerves, and other organs. Transplant medicine could benefit tremendously. With further research, this technology could supercool, or even freeze internal organs, putting an end to the dangerously brief time frame for organ transplants. In a 2008 Forbes article, Mr. Freeze speculated on where his technology may lead. “If you could preserve a heart for three days, you could fly it anywhere.” On the late-night Japanese TV show, World Business Satellite, there was discussion of research towards using ABI’s CAS freezers to store ovaries during cancer treatment, allowing women to keep their fertility. On the ABI company webpage, photos of a rat heart transplant and undamaged cell walls of frozen wasabi are a reminder of the unusual coupling of frozen food and medicine. _SingularityHub_via_NextBigFuture
One further step is needed: a vitrification agent which can be added to the supercooled organs which would allow the electromagnetic field to be turned off without the risk of freezing. One step at a time.


Monday, January 24, 2011

The Virtues of Experience


The human brain learns a lot, over time. Experience shapes the brain, determining how it will work, and which parts of the brain will be active in different circumstances. Recent Japanese brain research has determined that expert players in the Japanese chess game "Shogi" use a different part of their brain (the caudate nucleus) to play, than do amateurs of the game. The caudate nucleus is the curved purple structure in the image above.
Neuroscientists at the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Wako, Japan, studied a group of professional and amateur shogi players. Shogi is the Japanese version of chess. With the use of real-time brain scans, the researchers discovered that the pros activated different parts of their brains than the amateurs did while studying game patterns and contemplating their next moves.

The findings were published in the Jan. 21 issue of Science.

Senior study author Keiji Tanaka, deputy director of the institute and head of the Cognitive Brain Mapping Laboratory, said the experts' unique brain circuitry enabled them to have "superior intuitive problem-solving capabilities."

Professional shogi players, who have practiced three or four hours a day for several years, "repeatedly note that the best next move comes to their mind 'intuitively,'" the authors wrote. "Being 'intuitive' indicates that the idea for a move is generated quickly and automatically without conscious search, and the process is mostly implicit."

...r brain difference occurred when the players were forced to quickly pick their next best move. The professionals' brain scans revealed activity in a portion of the basal ganglion known as the caudate nucleus, while the amateurs' scans did not.

The researchers suggest that a unique circuit between these two regions of the brain is what enables professional players to expertly recognize board game patterns and quickly choose their optimal next move.

"There was no volume difference of the caudate nucleus between professional and amateur players," said Tanaka. This suggests that "the caudate nucleus is used for other purposes in ordinary people [but] the experts have developed a unique way to use the system." _BW_via_ImpactLab
The caudate nucleus has been implicated in the development of automaticity of several types -- which places the caudate in a central, pivotal position for humans living in modern societies.

First, the caudate appears to be involved in the acquired automaticity of motor skills. This is not such a big surprise to brain researchers. But the caudate also seems to be involved in the automaticity of emotional processing, the automaticity of perceptual categorisation (PDF), automaticity of rule-based categorisation, and in switching between two languages in bilingual individuals. There are almost certainly more caudate functions to come.

Sure, there is overlap between the different caudate functions, but the brain -- and its many modular parts -- is nothing if not multi-functional. A Swiss Army knife of cognitive and emotional tools that modifies itself over a person's lifetime, adapting to the individual's experience.

That is why it is so important to the individual that the brains many potential functions be developed before their developmental windows close. And why it is so important to society that the brains of its members are well developed and long-lived.

We cannot afford to waste all of that hard-earned knowledge, experience, and savvy by dying too young. 500 year lifespans should be seen as a minimum timespan for skills acquisition and for passing these skills along to future generations.


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