Brain preservation is fast becoming a reality, and the challenge for neuroscientists comes with a growing prize purse.
Nonprofit Brain Preservation Foundation offers the Brain Preservation Technology Prize for the first scientist or team to rigorously exhibit a surgical method for “inexpensively and completely preserving an entire human brain” for 100 years. The challenge includes keeping neuronal processes and synaptic connections intact and using existing electron microscopic imaging techniques.
The challenge of preserving brains for revival in the future is to start with an animal model. After preserving an entire mouse brain, the competitors should preserve a large mammalian brain using a surgical method that can be done on a human patient.
“[It should be] using a procedure that, with minor modifications, might potentially be offered for less than US$20,000 by appropriately trained medical professionals,” state the contest rules.
The prize purse as of July 2015 is about $106,000, a pot growing through pledges from both small and large donors.
Stepping up to the plate are two competitors so far: post-doctoral researcher Dr. Shawn Mikula from the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Germany, and California-based cryobiology research firm 21st Century Medicine.
Dr. Mikula is testing a chemical fixing system on entire mouse brains in what is dubbed the Whole Mouse Brain Volume Electron Microscopy Project. The project intends to map a mouse brain’s entire connectome, or the definitive diagram of all neural synaptic connections.
21st Century Medicine pursues aldehyde-stabilized cryopreservation (ASC), which infuses the brain with a fixative solution and soaks it in an ice formation-preventing chemical. The latter has tested its cryopreservation technique on several whole rabbit and pig brains.
Dr. Ken Hayworth, foundation president and the brainchild of the prize, said that while prospect of “uploaded posthumans” is still hundreds of years away, he is certain of the possibility of mind uploading.
“We are destined to eventually replace our biological bodies and minds with optimally designed synthetic ones,” he says in an interview, optimistic that the technology will produce a healthy, smart and happy posthuman race.
A world where “the fear of death, disease and aging,” as Dr. Hayworth envisions it, is mostly eradicated? It may take a while to see how this plays out, but brain preservation is deemed a bold step to take now.