SAN LEANDRO (KPIX) — It is the stuff of science fiction and Hollywood movies. The promise: upon your death, your body is frozen until some future medical breakthrough restores you to full health.
Roughly 400 Americans — before they died — decided to bank on the possibility that this will happen. Their bodies are now being held at three facilities in the United States, including one in the East Bay.
“This is like a hospital,” explained Steve Garan, who took KPIX 5 reporter Juliette Goodrich on a tour of Trans Time, a Bay Area Cryonics facility in San Leandro.
Garan explained that cryonics is the science of placing humans into a low-temperature, biologically unchanging state immediately after clinical death.
Garan is the Chief Technology Officer for Trans Time. He is also the Director of Bioinformatics at UC Berkeley’s Center for Research and Education (CREA) and researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
“Think of it as a very intense intensive care unit,” Garan continued.
Except at this facility, all the patients — as they are known — are clinically dead and stored in huge, stainless steel containers. These containers are known as a “dewar”. A dewar is a specialized type of vacuum flask used for storing liquid nitrogen. They are used for long-term storage. At Trans Time, they are not unlike a high-tech body thermos.
“Which are full of liquid nitrogen and which are at minus 196 degrees Celsius. And we would keep them there until we can revive them,” said Garan.
Here’s a basic explanation of how the process works. Once a doctor pronounces a person legally dead from whatever cause, the body is brought to the Trans Time facility.
The body’s blood is replaced a plasma like-fluid that acts like anti-freeze. Garan calls it a cryoprotectant. He showed KPIX 5 the preparation room full of medical equipment.
“The patient is here on this table. We perfuse them. We also insert thermocouples, which are thermometers so we can monitor their temperature,” Garan explained.
The patients’ body is first kept on ice, then dry ice and is finally sprayed with liquid nitrogen as the body temperature slowly drops,
The bodies are then transferred into the large containers.
“You’re completely intact here,” remarked Garan.
Here the patients will remain suspended in liquid nitrogen indefinitely until sometime in the future when Garan says a cure is found and technology can restart them.
“Some have been there for 30 years. Some for 15 years. And one is waiting to go in right now, actually,” said Garan.
Not everyone has warmed to the idea.
“I don’t think these things have a snowball’s chance in Death Valley in July of every being revived,” remarked Professor Hank Greely.
Greely is the director of the Stanford Center for Law and the Biosciences. He specializes in the ethical, legal and social implications of new biomedical technologies.
He is skeptical that a human body and brain could ever be safely frozen as described and successfully revived.
“I can’t say that it can’t ever possibly happen, but I wouldn’t bet a dime on it.” remarked the law professor.
Even so, humans are signing up for this service before their death.
“This is what he wanted,” said John Segall. John is the brother of the late Dr. Paul Segall, who was a life-long cryonicist and life-extension researcher. In 2003, he died prematurely of an aortic aneurysm. His body is now suspended in liquid nitrogen.
“He wanted to stop death and live forever but his life was cut short,” said his friend, evolutionary biologist and peace activist David Seaborg.
“It was a tragedy but kind of a new adventure for him in a way,” said Segall’s brother John.
As of today, no one has safely and successfully reversed this procedure in a human being.
Garan said the technology is inevitable, and that Trans Time allows their clients to ride out the technology gap.
“I’m a scientist and I don’t do hope. I do facts,” proclaimed Garan
But for now, these patients are banking on the possibility. As for the cost: it’s $150,000.
“It covers everything. All the perfusion, the care until you get rebooted,” said Garan.
So far, five patients from the Bay Area have chosen this option.