On more than one occasion many of us have dreamed of having magical powers or abilities that allow us to overcome obstacles and fierce enemies. Perhaps, among the elements on this seductive list of mastery, skill and ingenuity is one not so popular with our superheroes: immortality.
If so, let me tell you that we are not as far removed from fiction as you might imagine. As Issac Asimov said, “Science fiction writers foresee the inevitable… This is thanks to a technique that has been in development for several decades now known as: cryopreservation. But what is cryopreservation? Putting something in a freezer to make it last longer? Simply lowering the temperature of things? Yes, and no.
Cryopreservation is much more than that. It aims to maintain cell viability and functionality at low temperatures. How low? Well, how about an extreme temperature of – 198.8 degrees the temperature of liquid nitrogen, at which the steel becomes as fragile as a shell; the skin and other tissues freeze instantly.
Cryopreservation is a whole science that seeks to understand how living things react to low temperatures to stop their biological time. Within each of us and throughout our lives, an infinite number of biochemical reactions take place that keep us alive and generally cease at the moment of death. This is known as biological time and the cold encourages these responses but does not stop them completely.
There are complications. How many of us have not been burned by holding a snowball for a long time, or have heard the sad stories of climbers whose limbs froze and simply fell off their bodies? Cold can be a double-edged tool if not used properly. The structure, size, and composition of our cells in terms of water and macromolecules, determines which cryopreservation techniques are appropriate. A much smaller spermatozoon with differently constituted membranes is not the same as a much more complex oocyte, although the same considerations apply. Now, can all types of tissue be cryopreserved and for how long? The theoretical answer is yes, as long as the biological time is suspended, taking care of the integrity of the cell. Something that is not so simple.
However, nowadays there are freezing techniques for a wide range of tissues and cells. To mention a few, they can be frozen with high efficiency: sperm, oocytes, embryos too and even gonadal tissue. And for how long? That is the wonder, because, if done correctly, it can remain in that state for decades and then be revived as if nothing had happened. Come to our experts for any questions you may have. Remember that here at Citmer we want to be part of your history.
Ávila-Portillo, L., Madero, J., López, C., León, M. F., Acosta, L., Gómez, C., Delgado, L., Gómez, C., Lozano J., & Reguero, M. (2006). Fundamentals of cryopreservation. Colombian Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. 57(4): 291 – 300. Fahy, G., & Wowk, B. (2014). Principles of Cryopreservation by Vitrification. Methods in Molecular Biology. 21 – 82. doi:10.1007/978-1-4939-2193-5_2.