A team of scientists successfully preserved a rabbit brain without damage. For the first time, the team demonstrated that it is possible to subject a complete mammalian brain into a long-term and almost perfect physical preservation.
The Brain Preservation Foundation awarded the team of scientist at the California-based 21st Century Medicine (21CM) with the Small Mammal Brain Preservation Prize on Tuesday. The scientists utilized a new cryonics method called the aldehyde-stabilized cryopreservation (ASC) for the rabbit brain experiment.
The ASC process involved quickly pouring glutaraldehyde through the vascular system of the rabbit brain. This prevents the metabolic decay and stabilizes the tissue. The rabbit brain is then perfused with 65 percent ethylene glycol and allowed to cool at -211 degrees Fahrenheit. The ASC method also uses sodium dodecyl sulfate, which is a common detergent in most labs, to allow the cryoprotectant to penetrate the rabbit brain without initiating shrinkage.
The ASC process keeps the brain's synapses, cell membranes and intracellular structures complete and undamaged during preservation. The rabbit brain's electron microscope images revealed that the neural circuits were preserved beautifully.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate Robert McIntyre and 21CM Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Gregory M. Fahy, developed the ASC method in collaboration with a team of microscopists, surgeons and other advisors.
"The brain was able to be sliced and viewed in an electron microscope, which suggested that all the connections had been preserved," said Brain Preservation Foundation's psychiatrist Michael Cerullo.
Kenneth Hayworth, a neuroscientist, said every synapse and neuron looked "beautifully preserved" across the rabbit brain. Being one of the judges, he was able to hold the same brain when it was still glassy solid.
The findings address one of the main criticisms about cryonics among the scientific community. The chief skepticism is that cryonics is incapable of preserving the brain's synaptic circuity.
Hayworth said the new research should result in a changed interested in cryonics. It also offers a unique challenge for medical scientists to develop a surgical method that can be used on humans based on the successful animal tests.
The study was published in the journal Cryobiology.
Photo: Nicholas Schooley | Flickr