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MIT Cuts Ties With Startup That Hints At Immortality Through Expensive Brain Preservation

author

Aliyah Kovner

Science Writer

clockApr 5 2018, 10:30 UTC

A traditionally preserved human brain. Asmus Koefoed/Shutterstock

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has officially cut ties with the controversial neuroscience start-up company Nectome less than a month after an exposé revealed that the latter took more than $250,000 from members of the public who want to have their brain preserved using the company’s “vitrifixation” process.

The problem? You’ll need to be euthanized for it to work, and it has not yet been proven to actually work in a human brain.

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As has been proposed by both science fiction authors and futurists, Nectome believes that humans can achieve immortality – or at least something sort of close to it – by digitizing the contents of our brains. Though scientists have yet to unravel the origins of consciousness, most agree that the tangible elements of what makes each of us, well, us, is the unique web of trillions of neural connections within each of our brains – collectively referred to as the connectome.

How exactly the three-dimensional structural information of the connectome can be recreated so that an individual’s personality can live in the cloud remains unknown, but ambitious transhumanists agree that finding a way to store fully intact brains so that future scientists can upload them is the first step.

Striving to meet this challenge, Nectome co-founder Robert McIntyre and cryobiologist Greg Fahy developed vitrifixation – the first embalming technique capable of preserving every neural connection in a mammal brain – in 2015. Their proof-of-concept experiment perfectly stabilized a whole rabbit brain.

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The following year, Nectome was awarded a grant from the National Institute of Health to further their work on vitrifixation alongside MIT professor Edward Boyden. Together, the team won a prize for preserving the connectome of a much larger pig brain, and according to the MIT Technology Review, they completed their first embalming attempt of a human corpse brain in February, though the results have not been made public.

Images of the whole pig brain, and electron microscopy slides of cells, that preserved by Nectome. Their project was awarded the Brain Preservation Foundation's large mammal prize. Photo credit Brain Preservation Foundation.

Riding high on their success, Nectome recently began pitching their technology at start-up entrepreneurial events. As of earlier this month, 25 people had paid $10,000 each to join a waiting list to have the preservation procedure performed on them at the end of life. (Note: the embalming fluid has to be infused while the subject is still alive.)

Yet despite the considerable advances Nectome has made, it is still far too early to be shopping their process to immortality-seeking customers, according to statements made by other prominent brain researchers.

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“If you are like me, and think that mind uploading is going to happen, it’s not that controversial,” said Ken Hayworth, president of the Brain Preservation Foundation. “But it could look like you are enticing someone to commit suicide to preserve their brain.” 

We now know that MIT agrees. Today, the college released a statement announcing their plan to terminate the research contract between Boydon’s lab and Nectome.

“If, someday, we can measure the location and identity of enough biomolecule types throughout a neural circuit, and then discover that simulating those things in concert is sufficient to recapitulate a brain’s function, that would be extremely interesting and exciting, to be sure," MIT said. "But this has not been done yet, and like any fundamental science question, there is no guarantee that it is possible at all."

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"It is also not known whether it is possible to recreate a person’s consciousness.” 

[H/T: MIT Technology Review]


  • tag
  • brain,

  • consciousness,

  • transhumanism,

  • immortality,

  • memmory