Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/08/20/organ_bank_research/

Organ banks on horizon as boffins prep tissue-freeze tech

Worryingly, experiments include human cells and flies

By Lewis Page

Posted in Science, 20th August 2010 08:30 GMT

Once again disregarding the warnings of science fiction, boffins in America are seeking to develop technology which will allow human parts to be frozen indefinitely in organ banks for use in on-demand transplants.

“The goal is to make human cells survive on ice. Twenty-four hours on ice is pushing it and many people die waiting,” says Daniel Shain, biology boffin.

Shain and his colleagues believe that the key to allowing human tissues, organs etc to survive being deep-frozen and then returning to service inside another body may be found in nature. Specifically, it seems that a certain type of fruit fly may hold the secret.

The humble Drosophila melanogaster, according to Shain and his collaborating fly expert Nir Yakoby, has an enzyme-regulated "molecular thermostat" which could - expertly tinkered with - allow it to survive being frozen. It seems that Shain has already gained similar insights from the abilities of Tibetan ice worms.

The two boffins, according to a statement issued yesterday by their university, have just scored a $385k grant to look into the matter and perhaps establish well-stocked transplant organ banks. It would seem that the dark future postulated by Larry Niven among others, in which voters desperate to increase the organ supply (and thus their own longevity) begin to insist on the death penalty for even minor crimes, may be upon us. In Niven's tales - which follow future cop Gil "the ARM" Hamilton - society's hunger for fresh organs becomes sufficiently powerful that black-market "organlegger" gangsters seize people off the street and break them up for parts.

Anyway.

“Shain accomplished this switch in mono-cell organisms and now we are going further up into the evolutionary tree to a more complex species,” offers Yakoby. “If we can get these human cells to survive on ice, we should expect organs to do the same. Organs are just a collection of cells.”

And of course humans are just a collection of organs. It would seem that not only are we on the verge of organ banks, organlegging and of course being able to assemble powerful monstroid bodies from human spare parts - doubtless, for reasons of tradition, placed under the control of brains salvaged from criminal deviants* or similar - but another science-fiction staple is on the cards.

We refer, of course, to frozen sleep, often speculatively used as a means of whiling away lengthy interstellar voyages or simple Earthbound journeys into the future.

It's plainly a race against time as to who cracks this first: other boffins, also with a plausible medical cover story, are also active in the field at present. ®

*Obtained, naturally, from the Brain Depositary (see Young Frankenstein).