Our Institutional Mission
The central objective of the Brain Preservation Foundation is to promote scientific research and services development in the field of whole brain preservation for long-term static storage. Through outreach to appropriate scientific communities, online activities, presentations and articles, directed research grants, challenge prizes, and other methods, we seek to explore the scientific hypothesis of whether a reliable surgical procedure exists that is capable of preserving the neural circuitry of the human brain at nanometer scale.
Through the Brain Preservation Technology Prize, we aim to spur the scientific evaluation of such technologies as chemopreservation (aldehyde or other chemical fixation, often followed by “plastination”) and cryopreservation (a process of chemoprotecting and “vitrifying” tissue for low temperature storage). The Prize seeks the development of a variety of inexpensive and reliable hospital surgical procedures which will verifiably preserve the structural connectivity of 99.9% of the synapses in a human brain when administered rapidly after biological death.
Extending today’s existing small-volume neural preservation techniques to whole brains is essential to the scientific goal of mapping neuronal connectivity across an entire human brain – a goal that has been identified by the NIH and others as crucial to furthering of our knowledge of brain function – see for example the NIH’s Human Connectome Project. Furthermore, advances in neuroscience today strongly suggest that appropriately preserved brains will contain our memories, identity, and a substrate for future consciousness, so that an appropriately verified preservation technology may allow future reanimation of the memories and identity of the preserved individual, if desired.
To help people understand the value and implications of such technology, we also seek to advance public understanding of the self, of our brains as physical, chemical, and biological carriers of our “internal self”, of our social relationships and environment as aspects of our “external self”, and of our technologies as rapidly-improving carriers and extensions of both our internal and external selves.
Should any brain preservation technology be proven to work, we will make every effort to help that technology become as affordable and legally available as possible, for use in hospitals, hospices, and homes around the world.
Our Social Mission
BPF’s social mission is to help individuals preserve, use, and improve their brains to the greatest degree possible, both now and in the future. At the most basic level, we seek to promote the preservation and improvement of our biological brains, via good diet, exercise, proper education, rich social life, lifelong learning, positive outlook, personal integrity, and other evidence-based behaviors that promote mental and physical health. Social behaviors that improve mental health include the prioritization and maintenance of fulfilling relationships, cherished friendships, and vibrant, equitable communities. At a less obvious level, we want to help people understand the way the use of appropriate digital technologies (photos, recordings, computers, social networks, and soon, personal digital agents/avatars) provides a more stimulating, creative, and resilient environment for their biological and social brains, as well as a wealth of useful resources and “facets of self” to share with their loved ones and communities after their biological death.
For those who have not considered brain preservation before, we want to help people understand why inexpensively preserving their memories and identity upon their biological death, for possible future revival of either, is of great potential value for themselves, their loved ones, and society. For many, this understanding may require a slight reimagining of the nature, value, and future of memories and self in society. A new social awareness comes when we recognize ourselves as not merely physical but also informational organisms. We are each special collections of unique and valuable experiences and “patterns”, carried in our biology, society and technology. By consciously stewarding these patterns, by daily choosing which thoughts, memories, and behaviors are truly “us,” and what information we want to represent us, both now and in the future, we can best continue to improve ourselves and our communities. By such efforts we hope to do our small part to help each of us better appreciate the gift of life and realize the fullest extent and potential of our humanity.
For those able to help increase either the Technology Prize purse, our Competitor Evaluation Fund, our Operating Budget, or our long-term Endowment, please consider making a small donation today. Every dollar helps. Thank you.
* In the types of electron microscopy neuroscientists commonly use (FIBSEM, etc.), preserved neural tissue can be visualized down to about a 6 nanometer resolution. This allows them to directly see each neuron’s synapses and dendrites (connections to other neurons). This level of detail also includes the ability to image, directly and indirectly (via molecular probes), many elements of the “synaptome,” the number and types of special proteins (vesicles, signaling proteins, cytoskeleton), receptors (Glutamate, etc.), and neurotransmitters (at least six types in human neurons) that are known to be involved in long-term learning and memory at each synapse in the brain, and elements of the “epigenome” (learning-based DNA methylation and histone modifications) in the nucleus of each neuron. It remains an open question in neuroscience exactly which features of the synaptome and epigenome need to be preserved to retain memory and identity in each species. We know simpler connectomes, synaptomes, and epigenomes are used in organisms with simpler memories (C. elegans, Drosophila, Aplysia, etc.), and that the vast majority of neural molecules are not involved in learning and memory, but support other cell functions necessary for life. Chemical fixation and cryonics both preserve the fats, proteins, sugars, and DNA in living neurons, and fix them effectively in place, and relevant membrane receptors stay in their normal distributions as well, as verified by antibody probes. What we don’t know yet is if this happens reliably everywhere during whole brain chemical and cryonic preservation. We also don’t know the full complement of small molecules and cytoskeletal features in our neurons and glia that are necessary to memory and identity, and which molecular signal states (eg., phosphorylation, methylation) are important. But our knowledge of the molecular basis of learning and memory continues to rapidly grow, aided by exciting new neuroscience techniques (optogenetics, viral tagging, protein microarrays, etc.). Our ability to scan and verify is also rapidly improving. New types of electron microscopy, such as Cryo-TEM, can image at an amazing 3 angstrom resolution, 50 times greater magnification than FIBSEM, a scale where brain proteins and even individual atoms can be directly seen.
Our current Brain Preservation Technology Prize is focused on the connectome, imaged at FIBSEM resolution. As neuroscience advances, we may learn that certain features of the synaptome and epigenome not presently observable by FIBSEM must also be preserved. In that case, the Brain Preservation Foundation will offer additional Technology prizes, and make use of other verification methods and even higher resolution imaging if necessary. Bottom line: As neuroscience continues to advance, BPF will do our best to help science to determine whether reliable and affordable protocols can be found to preserve those brain structures that give rise to our memories and identities, according to our best evidence to date.