A technology used to freeze sushi is solving a dilemma for organ storage. By borrowing tech used to preserve high-end food delicacies, a Hiroshima University research group proved it possible to safely freeze whole teeth and their delicate attaching tissues. As long as the freezer stays cold, the folks at Hiroshima U. think your teeth could be stored for 40 years, no problem. But the sushi-storage system isn't a one trick pony: internal organs could be next thanks to the magic of supercooling. In typical cryo-storage, fast freezing of organs requires poisonous levels of anti-freeze, and let's face it, no one wants a poisoned kidney transplanted into their body. But slower freezing causes cell popping ice crystals to form. So, what do you do to prevent ice crystals during slow freezing? Use magnets. ABI is the Japanese company producing the freezer system. ABI's “Cells Alive System” (CAS) vibrates water with magnetic fields, preventing freezing, even at supercool temperatures of -10 degrees Celsius (According to the Patent.) When the field is turned off, the water in the food instantly freezes. No time for ice growth means no Freddy Krueger action on frozen organs. Watch some great demonstrations of the technology in the videos after the jump.
Interest in the CAS technology has spread all over the world. In the first video below, a bottle of water is super cooled below freezing in a CAS freezer. The bottle is slammed against the freezer door, inducing ice crystals to form. The bottle of water is instantly turned to solid ice. Supercooling water is a trick you can Try At Home but the CAS system is able to do more than supercool pure liquids. It can supercool, then freeze, meat and vegetables and anything else. In the second video, CAS frozen flowers are dethawed and arranged in a vase. The perfect preservation of the flowers is an enormous contrast to my painful childhood memories of sloppy, limp, dinnertime vegetables. The frozen vegetables were train-wrecked by ice, while these flowers received much, much less damage during freezing.
The transition of this tech from food to longevity science is slowly evolving, but the steps forward are real. You can, right now, pay to store your teeth. Hiroshima University tested the cooling technology for teeth, and uses ABI CAS freezer tech at The Teeth Bank, the world's first commercial tooth bank. Dr. Toshitsugu Kawata, a Hiroshima University professor who has done extensive research at the Teeth Bank, helped prove that CAS is a viable technology to preserve teeth. Spare teeth used to be worthless medical waste. Now, removed wisdom teeth aren't garbage, they can be frozen and re-implanted at any point during your life. (The Teeth Bank's re-implant success rate is 87% according to the Taipei Times. ) Thanks to scientific advances, surgeons can even alter your old teeth by sculpting them, transforming a molar into an incisor. To quote Dr. Kawata, “It's like having a spare tire.”
In the journal Cryobiology in 2010, a research team including Dr. Kawata published the use of ABI's CAS freezing technology on teeth. A very tricky part of tooth preservation is keeping tooth ligaments alive, or even some of the ligament cells. Implanting ligaments is important. We have ligaments attached to teeth because the force of chewing could grind our chompers out of our jaws. When the research team tried slow freezing a whole fresh tooth without the CAS magnetic fields, the ligaments didn't survive and were severely damaged. However, a CAS magnetically vibrated tooth's ligaments survived. CAS frozen ligament cells grew as well as those from a fresh tooth, and showed only minor damage.
The founder of the ABI Corporation and its CAS freezer, Norio Owada (known internationally as “Mr. Freeze,”) is actively pursuing medical advances. There's a hodgepodge of reports out there about what's being done. According to various sources, Mr. Freeze is collaborating with 40 researchers to translate their work with teeth and sushi to hearts, nerves, and other organs. Transplant medicine could benefit tremendously. With further research, this technology could supercool, or even freeze internal organs, putting an end to the dangerously brief time frame for organ transplants. In a 2008 Forbes article, Mr. Freeze speculated on where his technology may lead. “If you could preserve a heart for three days, you could fly it anywhere." On the late-night Japanese TV show, World Business Satellite, there was discussion of research towards using ABI's CAS freezers to store ovaries during cancer treatment, allowing women to keep their fertility. On the ABI company webpage, photos of a rat heart transplant and undamaged cell walls of frozen wasabi are a reminder of the unusual coupling of frozen food and medicine.
Despite the very promising advances, and actual organ banking technology coming from ABI, information about the company hasn't been too plentiful on the blog-o-sphere. One problem is that there have only been a couple English language scientific publishings that refer to ABI Corporation LTD or the CAS system. The next problem is that most of the TV and news media is in Japanese. And finally, since CAS freezers are sold internationally, videos and forum posts about people messing with the freezers aren't always by English speakers. However, this technology could solve major problems associated with cryopreservation of body parts. Because as we're learning to make organs, we need to learn how to store them.
Looking into the future, imagine you have heart failure ten years from now. Rather than a frightening race against time to find a donor organ from a cadaver, a spare heart is thawed from a well stocked frozen organ bank. Hell, you've got a CAS freezer full of replacement parts grown from your own cells. Humans are learning how to grow replacement organs through bio-scaffolds and printing (As reported in Singularity Hub.) Combining organ printing and organ freezing may lead to growing and freezing our own spare parts, well beyond the extra teeth and perfectly preserved wasabi.