Norio Owada keeps things in his freezer that normally don‘t freeze well, like cream cakes and fish. When visitors stop by his lab, he reaches into one of his freezers and pulls out a cake lowered to 25 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. Once it thaws, it looks and tastes as good as new.
Owada has achieved an amazing feat. About a decade ago he developed an invention called the cells alive system. Owada has eliminated cellular harm from the freezing process.
It works like a microwave oven in reverse. Inside the freezer the object being frozen is zapped with a strong magnetic field. The field keeps the water molecules in liquid form while their temperature drops. When the field is switched off, the object is instantly frozen, without time for the formation of ice crystals. These crystals normally rip apart organic cells.
This keeps frozen food tasting remarkably fresh, but Owada also wants to save lives by shipping another kind of meat: organs. Forty-seven researchers are experimenting with Owada‘s technology as a method of preserving human organs for transplant. Owada predicts that the first defrosted organ transplant could happen within a decade.
This could be a major technological breakthrough, both as it relates to food and medicine. We already know that freezing food is a viable option to keep your food fresh longer. However, freezing can damage some nutrients, such as certain antioxidants. There’s not enough information here to tell whether this new freezing technology can preserve the original nutritional value of the food being frozen. If it does, it would be an improvement that could revolutionize the food industry.
Is It a Safe Process?
The only thing that gives me pause is Mr. Owadas statement that the object being frozen is “zapped with a strong magnetic field and other kinds of energy” (emphasis mine). What other kinds of energy are we talking about?
Many can completely destroy nutritional value in food, such as the microwaves emitted in a microwave oven, for example.
Does the thawed food taste fresh but become devoid of nutritional content, or does it affect some vibrational molecular energy patterns? I don’t know.
Preserving Organs for Transplantation
It could also have a major impact on the organ transplant industry; being able to store organs for several days, rather than just hours, as is the case now.
According to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN), there are currently 98,970 people on the waiting list for organ transplants in the US. Granted, the major problem is finding donors to begin with, but the other problem is finding a suitable donor organ within a certain area, as they can only be stored on ice for about 5 hours.
Other biological cells, such as blood, semen, embryos and thin tissue sections can be stored almost indefinitely at liquid nitrogen temperatures. In the early 2000’s the first human “test-tube baby” was born from a cryopreserved egg fertilized by a cryopreserved sperm, so we know cells can survive under cryogenic conditions.
The problem that arises when trying to freeze larger biological organisms, such as organs, is that as the organ cools, metabolic imbalances set in due to decreased oxygen consumption.
Organs and tissues being maintained for transplantation therefore require special preservation solutions to counter acidosis, depressed sodium pump activity and increased intracellular calcium. Solutions such as Viaspan, HTK and Celsior are designed for this purpose, and they also contain ingredients to minimize damage from free radicals and other cellular damage.
Cellular damage by excessively rapid cooling kills cells by intracellular ice formation, and excessively slow cooling kills cells by either electrolyte toxicity or mechanical crushing. When you cool cells slowly, ice forms on the outside of the cells, rather on the inside, which is not as damaging as intracellular ice formation, however the ice on the outside will dehydrate the cells by pulling the water out.
So neither is a particularly elegant solution.
This has led many cryobiologists to use mixtures of cryoprotectants for full vitrification (forming zero ice) when trying to preserve cells, tissues and organs.
However, the challenge with vitrification is that most of the mixtures can cause toxicity.
These are just some of the obstacles encountered by those who want to realize the idea of cryogenically freezing a human, to be thawed and reanimated at a later time.
Perhaps Mr. Owada’s freezing method contains the answers to all of these current problems?
Only time will tell.