The Corner

Re: Freezing Cells

Some great expertise from a reader on the issues surrounding the freezing of

human cells:

“Hullo, Derb— … The issue is kind of interesting in that it ties to

technology feasibility and even into moral dilemmas, from Ted Williams, to

abortion, to embryonic stem cell research. You are partly right and partly

wrong about the survival and destruction issues surrounding freezing living

cells.

“You are right in that cells die when there are no cryoprotective agents

added, but it is more than that– there is also a very precise set of

protocols required to succeed and prevent the freezing process from killing

the cells– temp reduction rates, fluid viscosity, and so on. The actual

cause of cell death is not universally understood– the cell membrane is

actually somewhat flexible, so it is not going to simply burst like a water

balloon if there is a 20% increase in fluid space volume from water

freezing– as best ‘we’ can tell (I am not part of ‘we’– our experts here

are led by Dr. Allison Hubel and colleagues around the world), the problem

is that the water forms crystals when it freezes, which have sharp points

that essentially lacerate the cell membrane. Freezing makes the water turn

into little spears that kill the cells from the inside.

“A major problem with cryoprotective agents (CPA- same acronym as Paul

Bremer….) is that the most common, used almost universally and

adjunctively with glycerol, is DMSO, which has the unfortunate

characteristic of also being toxic to humans. So, they harvest blood and

process/concentrate the cells, freeze it with DMSO & etc., transfer it to

the place (city, hospital where the marrow-matched patient is) where a bone

marrow transplant is to be done, thaw it back out, then go through a series

of washes to get the poisons cleaned back off before instilling it into the

patient.

“A good post-thaw viability (survival of cells) is around 60% of the total

of cells– some people advertise >80% or 90-%, but that is a bit of a ‘lie

via statistics’ game– they don’t count all the dead population in computing

the percentage. We are working here with different, more efficacious, and

non-toxic CPAs, of which the most promising appears to be arabinogalactin

extracted from larch trees.

“As you can see, this is the reason that we will never get Ted Williams back

among the living. His frozen body consisting of billions of cells simply

would not work with only ~60% of the cells surviving the thaw process. As

one can say, God instills the soul when He wishes, and outsmarts us all.”

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