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Biotech Science

Mad Scientist Brings Back Dead With "Deanimation" 501

mattnyc99 writes "Esquire is running a a jaw-dropping profile of MacArthur genius Marc Roth in their annual Best and Brightest roundup, detailing how this gonzo DNA scientist (who also figured out how to diagnose lupus correctly) went from watching his infant daughter die to literally reincarnating animals. Inspired by NOVA and funded by DARPA, Roth has developed a serum for major biotech startup Ikaria that successfully accomplished 'suspended animation' — the closest we've ever come to simulating near-death experiences and then coming back to life. From the article: 'We don't know what life is, anyway. Not really. We just know what life does — it burns oxygen. It's a process of combustion. We're all just slow-burning candles, making our way through our allotment of precious O2 until it becomes our toxin, until we burn out, until we get old and die. But we live on 21 percent oxygen, just as we live at 37 degrees. They're related. Decrease the oxygen to 5 percent, we die. But, look, the concentration of oxygen in the blood that runs through our capillaries is only 2 or 3 percent. We're almost dead already! So what if we turn down the candle's need for oxygen? What if we dim the candle so much that we don't even have the energy to die?' " The writer Tom Junod engages in what Hunter Thompson once called "a failed but essentially noble experiment in pure gonzo journalism." If you can suspend your inner critic for a time, it's a fun ride.
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Mad Scientist Brings Back Dead With "Deanimation"

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  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn&gmail,com> on Tuesday December 02, 2008 @07:33PM (#25968213) Journal
    This reminds me of a This American Life episode I listened to (and you can too by clicking on Full Episode here []). Basically it explores a very bad chapter of early cryogenics. Before I listened to that, I thought that this was pretty cut and dried ethically (dead bodies are dead bodies, do what you want) but you see how it negatively affects other people who misplace hope in this process.

    Also, isn't Ikaria the worst name to pick []? "Hey, our company hopes to aim too high and fail hard." They should have gone with Promethea [] in my opinion.
  • Whoa boy... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Chicken_Kickers ( 1062164 ) on Tuesday December 02, 2008 @07:36PM (#25968263)
    I think this article will open up a can of worms on Slashdot. The issue I have here is that bringing someone back from suspended animation where they were alive to begin with is not the same as 'reviving the dead'. I think nature has been doing this in hibernating animals for millions of years. If someone could freeze a medically dead person and then make him alive again with his memories, personality etc. intact, (i.e. not cloning, which is already feasible) then they can claim they have revived the dead. Other than that, it is just playing with semantics.
  • by morgan_greywolf ( 835522 ) on Tuesday December 02, 2008 @07:36PM (#25968271) Homepage Journal

    You're either dead or you're not. It's rather binary. There's no continuum.

  • by Ostracus ( 1354233 ) on Tuesday December 02, 2008 @07:42PM (#25968345) Journal

    "We're almost dead already! So what if we turn down the candle's need for oxygen? What if we dim the candle so much that we don't even have the energy to die?'"

    And what kind of "life" would it be?

  • by ArcSecond ( 534786 ) on Tuesday December 02, 2008 @07:43PM (#25968365)
    ...when he wrote "It's a weird thing about scientists--you would think that they would love science fiction. But they don't."
    If you'll excuse my French: bullshit!
  • by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Tuesday December 02, 2008 @07:44PM (#25968369)

    Either you're dead or you're not--Tell that to someone who's brain dead. Or someone who's suffered a stroke that effects their brain stem, or people that suffer from being "locked in". Tell that to someone who 'died' on the operating table during heart surgery but 'came back'. What exactly constitutes being "alive" verus dead? Are self-replicating proteins "alive"? Because last I looked, prions are not alive though they can kill you (mad cow disease). And this isn't even discussing non-literal definitions of dead or alive -- such as being emotionally dead (suicidal thoughts anyone?), concepts of heaven and hell, etc.

    There is indeed quite a spectrum between dead and alive; Life has never been easy to classify and put into boxes, because the curious thing about it is you never observe the same thing twice looking at it.

  • Aging is a disease (Score:5, Insightful)

    by geekoid ( 135745 ) <dadinportland AT yahoo DOT com> on Tuesday December 02, 2008 @07:53PM (#25968497) Homepage Journal

    that will be cured.

    And no, overpopulation won't be a problem becasue humans, like all biological creatures will only expand to meet the amount of food that is available.
    The rest will starve.

  • Space travel etc. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Chicken_Kickers ( 1062164 ) on Tuesday December 02, 2008 @07:55PM (#25968523)
    Well, this could be useful in space travel, barring we develop hyperdrives. Sci fi have been playing around with sleeper ship concepts for decades. It might also be useful for people who have terminal cancer for example, who might want to opt to be frozen in the hope of a cure being developed during the interim (though there will be the problem of reintegrating into society after even just a few years). A more plausible use maybe is to put into suspended animation a critically injured person until he can be transported to a hospital and treated to minimise cell damage (assuming the serum does less damage).
  • Re:Whoa boy... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by QuantumG ( 50515 ) * <> on Tuesday December 02, 2008 @07:58PM (#25968553) Homepage Journal

    Meh. It'll be a standard procedure in 5 years. "Ok, so what the anesthetist is going to do is stop your heart. Then we'll cut two small incisions in your chest and I'll insert this tiny camera.. [blah blah blah, rest of the standard keyhole surgery speech] .. and once we're all finished, the anesthetist will start your heart again."

    This stuff isn't that revolutionary.. it's just a neat trick to stop you getting brain damage when you're not getting enough oxygen.

  • Re:Whoa boy... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheLazySci-FiAuthor ( 1089561 ) <> on Tuesday December 02, 2008 @08:00PM (#25968579) Homepage Journal

    Semantics, agreed.

    Of course, in true Slashdottian hyperbole, were this serum to be completely viable, I could see some kind of auto-release nano-canisters being injected into the bloodstream of soldiers, so that in the event of explosive death, an instant release of the substance could assure that all the pieces quickly 'go to sleep' and await pickup/cleanup by the wandering red cross medical roombas for delivery to the reconstruction/reanimation tent.

    That would be pretty close to dying and being brought back methinks.

    Might make a good extreme sport as well!

  • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) * <> on Tuesday December 02, 2008 @08:25PM (#25968949) Homepage Journal

    Most every space science fiction has a period where people went out in "sleeper ships" to colonize the galaxy.. and then the warp drives come along and overtake the sleeper ships. It's a common theme.

    I imagine the following for us:

    * All those exoplanet astronomers eventually discover a rocky planet around an nearby star.. say, 20 light years away.
    * They manage to confirm the atmosphere is oxygen/nitrogen, and can guess that the atmospheric pressure is similar to Earth.
    * Some smart cookie figures out how to image the surface of the planet and sees trees and rivers and, ya know, squirrels.
    * A Von Braun figure declares that we *must* go populate this planet and puts together enough international funding to send a ship.

    The ship would be nuclear powered. It would have about 30,000 people on it in suspended animation. 30 engineers would remain awake to monitor the systems and keep the ship on course. After 10 years of service, they'd go into suspended animation and wake their successors (actually, it'd be staggered replacement). If it takes 400 years to get there, so what? That's just 40 shifts. 1,200 engineers out of 30,000 colonists.

  • by Carnildo ( 712617 ) on Tuesday December 02, 2008 @08:33PM (#25969017) Homepage Journal

    You're either dead or you're not. It's rather binary. There's no continuum.

    The people quoting The Princess Bride above do have a point: you can't draw a line and say "everyone on this side is dead, everyone on the other side is alive". Consider bacterial endospores: no significant chemical reactions are taking place inside the spore, and by most objective measures, they're "dead". But place one in the correct environment, and it will convert to an unambiguously-alive bacterium.

    Humans are far more complicated, with even more ways to blur the boundary between "alive" and "dead".

  • by justinlee37 ( 993373 ) on Tuesday December 02, 2008 @08:44PM (#25969145)
    I think that most people suggesting that there will be an overpopulation problem are starting with the inherent assumption that starvation/overcrowding/war would be the problem. So basically you've just said that the problem won't be a problem. Brilliant.
  • Re:Whoa boy... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by robertjw ( 728654 ) on Tuesday December 02, 2008 @09:09PM (#25969411) Homepage
    They will have to invent square roombas.
  • by compro01 ( 777531 ) on Tuesday December 02, 2008 @09:10PM (#25969427)

    A useful kind.

    Doing surgery is like trying to fix a car while it's running. If this idea works, you could simply stop the engine for awhile, making many surgical procedures (heart bypass, for example) far, far, far simpler (and thus far less likely to get screwed up) and likely opening up a bunch of currently-impossible things, like spreading a long, complex procedure over multiple days, allowing the doctors to rest, which would help prevent mistakes caused by sleep deprivation.

    And of course, there's the sci-fi stuff like sleeper ships (as even at relativistic speeds, you're talking stupid lengths of time for interstellar travel.) or the old standby "Life is boring. Wake me up when X happens.".

  • Re:Whoa boy... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NIckGorton ( 974753 ) * on Tuesday December 02, 2008 @09:16PM (#25969475)

    Here's a better question: When do you think anyone in their right mind will ok that procedure?

    You'd never ok that procedure any more than you would ok having CPR performed. (Though you might leave an advanced directive to prevent it in certain situations.) Its likely something that would be done should you have cardiac arrest in a medical setting (or with fast enough EMS response if it becomes a field treatment.)

    Its also likely something that would be done in order to facilitate transfer of a patient who will die quickly without specialized care unavailable at a given facility. For example, you get whacked on the head in an assault an sustain an epidural hematoma (big assed bleeding inside your skull outside your brain that can kill you rapidly by compressing your brain and causing your brainstem to be squeezed out the base of your skull). I diagnose that at my small community ER and plan to transfer you to the big tertiary care center 50 miles away. However as we await the helicopter you suddenly begin to show signs of brainstem herniation. At that point you are dead in minutes without a neurosurgeon. So I place you in suspended animation and we ship you to the surgeon who evacuates your hematoma and then you are reanimated.

    Pretty nifty. Though your HMO will probably deny payment because its 'experimental' or only allowed for epidurals on the right side of your head, not the left.

  • by M0b1u5 ( 569472 ) on Tuesday December 02, 2008 @09:29PM (#25969601) Homepage

    You overestimate how much society changes.

    Given the ENORMOUS gulf between 1900 and 2000, you could reanimate a person who died in 1908, and it would take them very little effort at all to adjust to 21st century life.

    Do you think if you were frozen now, you'd have trouble being resurrected in 2028? I think not. You'd love it.

    Humans are like that: adaptable.

    In fact, I'd go so far as to say you could resurrect an ancient Sumerian person with little or no difficulties.

    The situation would be no different to bringing a Papuan to New York city. They might not like it much, but they'd adjust pretty quickly.

  • Re:Whoa boy... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by shadwstalkr ( 111149 ) on Tuesday December 02, 2008 @09:44PM (#25969773) Homepage

    Pretty nifty. Though your HMO will probably deny payment because its 'experimental' or only allowed for epidurals on the right side of your head, not the left.

    That's pretty generous. My guess is that the HMO will hem and haw about your claim until it's too late to save you, then approve it. That way, they can say that they can claim the best intentions without spending a dime.

  • by Nazlfrag ( 1035012 ) on Tuesday December 02, 2008 @11:09PM (#25970543) Journal

    Chained to a rock for all eternity while vultures devour your liver doesn't sound so great either...

  • by corbettw ( 214229 ) <corbettw@ y a h o o . com> on Tuesday December 02, 2008 @11:10PM (#25970551) Journal

    So what? Those things are just that: things. There are people living today who lived through all of those advances and didn't go into shock over them, why would you think someone getting caught up to all of it at once couldn't handle it?

    The things that people from 1955 would be most freaked out about now would be things like gay marriage, lowered blood alcohol levels in drunk driving laws, and having a black President-elect. Societal changes would be much more shocking. And even then, they would adjust, because as the GP pointed out, that's what humans do.

  • Re:Whoa boy... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Nazlfrag ( 1035012 ) on Tuesday December 02, 2008 @11:18PM (#25970607) Journal

    I'd opt for a triangle myself. Perhaps 30/60/90.

  • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) * <> on Tuesday December 02, 2008 @11:29PM (#25970751) Homepage Journal

    The whole point of warp drive is that you're not traveling faster than light. You're getting from A to B faster than light would travel to go from A to B but you're not *moving* faster than light, you're warping space. This, of course, is impossible.. but that's not the point.

    Wormholes are easier to understand. You connect two points in space.. now the distance required to travel is very short (it's zero if the wormhole has no "inside"). Did you travel faster than the speed of light? Why, yes, you traveled from A to B faster than light could before the wormhole was opened, but no, you didn't change your velocity to a value higher than c.

    If you have an inside to your wormhole then you could go inside it, then change one of the end points to be somewhere else. Say you can only create a wormhole where the two end points are millimeters apart, but the inside of the wormhole is many meters, enough to fit all the equipment you need to manipulate the wormhole. Now you can move the A end of the wormhole so that it is closer to the B end, then move the B end so it is further away from the A end, then move the A end again. You're inch worming your way through space.. if you can inch fast enough, you can inch faster than light can travel the same distance. Are you moving faster than light? No, you're not moving at all! This is Peter F. Hamilton's "continuous wormhole drive".

    All of these things require new physics.. there's a couple of proposals that require only slightly exotic absurdities, but it's all theoretical and, comical, right now.

  • by tibman ( 623933 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2008 @12:07AM (#25971287) Homepage

    Pretty sure horses still need to be shod and wooden fences built and gates fixed and bricks laid and mail delivered and snow shoveled and old ladies helped up the stairs (not exactly a job) and trash removed and books sorted and heavy things carried around. Not all jobs are "technical".

  • by LoRdTAW ( 99712 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2008 @01:29AM (#25971865)

    To be honest if I had terminal cancer why would I want to be frozen and then wake up to find out that all my family and friends are dead? Seriously how could someone adjust to that? Having no close family or friends?

    If it were only 10 or 20 years you might still have plenty of family and friends. People do tend to go about their own lives and things would be allot different for your socially.

  • by Raiden30 ( 1339617 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2008 @10:05AM (#25974423)
    Please take zombies SERIOUSLY! Like this guy [] and his anti-zombie/lancer gun
  • by klenwell ( 960296 ) <> on Wednesday December 03, 2008 @11:46AM (#25975713) Homepage Journal

    old ladies helped up the stairs (not exactly a job)

    Extend it to administering their medicine and changing their diapers and the like and it's a common job. Not particularly glamorous or well-paying, but with an aging population, ever more in demand.

  • by evil_aar0n ( 1001515 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2008 @01:06PM (#25976849)

    I'd like to believe you, but all of the intolerance - cf. McCain's 2008 campaign - and religious hostility we _still_ have kind of tells me that, socially, we _can't_ adapt. Not all of us, anyway.

  • by tekrat ( 242117 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2008 @01:25PM (#25977109) Homepage Journal

    You could have been frozen in the 70's and been prepared for all of that by watching Star Trek.

    Computers -- Kirk and Spock *spoke* to their computers. 99% of us still have to type. Hell, Spock even holds up 3.5 floppies on the show and refers to them as "tapes"

    Cell Phones -- "Scotty beam me up" Kirk used a cell phone nearly every episode. Many models even flip open the same way and are the same exact size as the original communicator. Spock even had that wacky Bluetooth headset in his ear often.

    In fact, if you were frozen in the 70's you'd be disappointed by the LACK OF PROGRESS. Where the frack are our flying cars, jetpacks, transporters, warp drive, colonies on Mars, and all that other crap we were supposed to have by the year 2000?


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