There is no limit for creativity and innovation. Whether it is a painting, a sculpture, or an electric bulb, someone imagined it before turning into a reality. The creation has changed the world in a way that could never be imagined. The human mind has no boundaries. New ideas and concepts can emerge from anywhere. Behind these ideas, intellect and brilliance of great inventors and artists are involved. What if these intelligent brains can be preserved and used in the future?
Nectome, a startup from the U.S. has been working on a technology of preserving brains in a microscopic detail with the help of scientific embalming process. Next week, Nectome’s cofounder, Robert McIntyre will pitch this business idea in front of startup accelerator Y Combinator and other investors. The chemical solution used by the startup can preserve human body for hundreds of years. The purpose of preserving the human body is that future scientists can use the brain and turn it into a computer simulation.
There is a catch in Nectome’s procedure. People need to choose to euthanize. It is necessary for brain to be fresh. The company plans to connect people suffering from terminal illness to a heart-lung machine. This connection is made to drive the mixture of scientific embalming chemicals into carotid arteries in the neck when they are alive. The company consulted with lawyers regarding the End of Life Option Act. Under this act, terminal patients are allowed to undergo doctor-assisted suicide. So, it believes its service will be legal.
Nectome has received a federal grant and joined hands with Edward Boyden, a top neuroscientist at MIT. Moreover, its unique technique has won an $80,000 science prize for preserving a brain of pig in a such way that every synapse was distinctly visible through an electron microscope. The storage services of Nectome have not been put up on a sale yet and it will not be for next several years. Though there is no evidence that memories can reside in dead tissues, the firm has found a way to determine if the idea will work in the market.
The idea of preserving brain is not new. The Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Arizona preserves more than 150 bodies and brains in liquid nitrogen. However, there is a dispute over whether this cryonics technique damages the brain. Nectome has been working in collaboration with cryobiologist Greg Fahy at a company named 21st Century Medicine. They have developed a method that combines cryonics technique with embalming process. This method was effective in preserving the brain to the nanometer level, which also includes the connectome—the web of synapses connecting neurons.
It is obvious that the company has not been trying to bring the preserved tissue back to life, which is the expected outcome of Alcor-style cryonics. However, the company has been trying to recollect information which is already present in anatomical layout and molecular details of the brain.
Some of the scientists believe that brain storage and reanimation process is fraudulent. The McGill University neuroscientist Michael Hendricks denounced the idea of brain resurrection through technology. Moreover, he also criticized the concept of burdening future generations with brain banks of current generation.
Nectome received the support from various sources. It raised $1 million in funding, which also includes $120,00 from Y Combinator. It also received $960,000 as a federal grant from the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health for “whole-brain nanoscale preservation and imaging.” The company’s pitch to elite investors on Y Combinator’s demo day will be influential in deciding its business fate.