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Frozen human brain tissue brought back to life in major breakthrough

A groundbreaking discovery in cryogenics may pave the way for the preservation and revival of human brains in the future. Researchers in China have achieved a significant milestone by successfully freezing and thawing human brain tissue while restoring its normal function.

This breakthrough holds promise for advancing the study of neurological conditions, as traditionally, brain tissue does not survive the freezing and thawing process. Despite this, individuals have sought cryogenic preservation of their brains or bodies in hopes of future revival.

However, Dr. Zhicheng Shao and his team at Fudan University in Shanghai have developed a solution that can sustain brain tissue viability during freezing. Utilizing human embryonic stem cells, the researchers grew brain organoids—small clusters of self-organizing brain cells—for three weeks, which then matured into various types of brain cells.

Subsequently, the organoids were subjected to various chemical compounds, including sugars and antifreeze agents, in an attempt to preserve tissue integrity during freezing in liquid nitrogen for over 24 hours.

Following thawing, the team monitored the samples for growth and cell viability. Through rigorous experimentation, they identified a compound named ‘Medy’, comprising methylcellulose, ethylene glycol, DMSO, and Y27632, which exhibited the least cell death and highest growth post-thawing.

Further assessment of Medy revealed sustained growth of brain organoids for up to 150 days after thawing, indicating its efficacy in preserving living brain tissue. The compound also demonstrated success in freezing and thawing brain tissue samples extracted from a young girl with epilepsy, which remained active for at least two weeks post-thawing.

Published in the journal Cell Reports Methods, the study underscores the importance of developing reliable cryopreservation techniques for both brain tissue and organoids. This advancement offers a valuable model for studying neural diseases, organoid transplantation for brain injuries, and drug discovery.

Dr. João Pedro Magalhães of the University of Birmingham lauded the findings, emphasizing the solution’s ability to prevent cell death and maintain functionality. He suggested that this research could eventually contribute to the cryopreservation of entire brains, potentially benefiting patients with terminal conditions or enabling space travel to distant star systems in the future.

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