The next speaker from Alcor was Stephen Van Sickle, Executive Director, discussing the “Research Direction at Alcor.”
There was a time when Alcor did not conduct much research, focusing instead on their services and gaining new members. However, eventually Alcor leaders decided that research could definitely help the institution.
Van Sickle said that research is important because it brings in “key personnel” and provides valuable training to Alcor employees. Alcor chooses questions to research that specifically relate to technology and procedures used so that they can be improved.
In years past, Alcor experimented on dogs. Now they are using a rat model system, because of the complexity, time, labor and expense savings compared to the use of dogs. A laboratory has been built around this research direction. One of the complications has been developing equipment appropriate for the size of a rat, compared to established equipment for humans and other organism.
With this rat model, Alcor will begin developing experiments in cryoprotection, ischemia, and hypothermia. For example, Alcor will try to determine the level of cryoprotectants that is most effective for eventual recovery.
Van Sickle emphasized that research in cryogenics will not likely lead to a sudden breakthrough in cryonics and “incremental progress is what is needed.”
Another line of research important to Alcor is how to minimize fracturing during the vitrification process. Fracturing occurs prior to the vitrification temperature, measured by an acoustic sensor placed on the head to listen for fracturing events in the brain. They hope to look at the stresses involved to try to minimize them with future procedures and tecnologies. One possible technique to be tested is warming up the body very briefly during the cooling down process to relieve stresses before heading back toward colder temperatures.
Technology trends and continued research will allow Alcor to better monitor patients during the cryonics process to gain useful statistics. They will test new tools for monitor cryoprotection, like NIR fiber optic spectroscopy.
There has been a lot of focus in the first few talks about the important of research to Alcor. Instead of simply providing just a body preservation service, they seek to improve the technology while hoping to prove the theory of cryonics. They are now laying the groundwork for the rat model system.
The Alcor philosophy of “slow and steady” progress sounds like an approach anyone doing research should take. Research can be tedious, long, and arduous, but remains absolutely necessary for progress.