Using a technique developed three years ago, researchers from MIT and 21st Century Medicine have shown that it’s possible to preserve the microscopic structures contained within a large mammalian brain. The breakthrough means scientists now have the means to store and study samples of the human brain over longer timescales—but the method could eventually, maybe, be used to resurrect the dead.
Back in 2015, Gizmodo reported on how the same team, led by Robert McIntyre from MIT and Greg Fahy from 21st Century Medicine, was awarded the $26,735 Small Mammal Brain Preservation Prize, which is run by the Brain Preservation Foundation (BPF), a not-for-profit with the goal of furthering research in brain preservation.
In this case, the “small mammal brain” belonged to a rabbit, but a scaled-up version of the same technique has now been used to preserve a pig’s brain, an accomplishment that has earned the team the BPF’s Large Mammal Brain Preservation Prize, which carries a purse of $80,000.
Sounds like an incremental improvement, but this latest step opens the door to human-specific medical applications, like the ability to study 3D sections of the human brain in exquisite detail. More conceptually, the technique could be used for long-term human biostasis. And in fact, McIntyre is now running with this possibility, and has cofounded a new company called Nectome with this stated mission:
“to preserve your brain well enough to keep all its memories intact: from that great chapter of your favorite book to the feeling of cold winter air, baking an apple pie, or having dinner with your friends and family. We believe that within the current century it will be feasible to digitize this information and use it to recreate your consciousness.”
We’re still a long way from uploading our brains into a computer (something that may never happen), but if it ever becomes a reality, we may look back on pioneering efforts such as these. As the BPF stated in an accompanying press release, this brain preservation technique, called Aldehyde-Stabilized Cryopreservation (ASC), would enable patients—that is, preserved brains in cryostorage—to “safely wait out those centuries” required to develop mind-uploading technologies. “For now, neuroscience is actively exploring the plausibility of mind uploading through ongoing studies of the physical basis of memory, and through development of large-scale neural simulations and tools to map connectomes,” writes the BPF.