According to my ongoing informal research, there are two sides of brain preservation innovation: 1) the preservation and mapping (building) the connectome; and 2) the reinstantiation of memories and/or creating consciousness from a connectome.
[N]euroscience is now identifying the synaptic and nuclear structures
that contain our unique memories and identity, and new electron
microscopy (EM) imaging techniques are allowing us to verify when
these structures have been successfully preserved, from gross
connectivity in the connectome, all the way to particular synaptic
features, receptor distributions, and even the signal states
(phosphorylation, methylation, acetylation, etc.) of individual brain
proteins and epigenomic DNA.
Recently, MRI machines have been built that can image individual cell
proteins, improbable as this sounds. Such technology may one day give
us the ability to inexpensively and nondestructively scan preserved
brains to upload the molecular features of memory and identity.
What is a Connectome?
A connectome* is the complete map of the neural connections in a
brain. It is sometimes referred to as a “wiring diagram” of the
molecular connections between neurons, trading on the analogy of a
brain to an electronic device, where axons and dendrites are wires and
neuron bodies are components. Depending on the scientist, the term
connectome may or may not also include learning-relevant molecular
states at each synaptic connection (the “synaptome”) and any
learning-relevant changes in the nucleus of each neuron (the
Recently, "The Small Mammal BPF Prize" was won. It's one in a series of competitions for brain preservation (BP) achievements. This competition is doing for BP what XPRIZE is doing for space innovation with competitions like the Ansari X Prize.
The winning team used a combination of plastination (chemopreservation) and cryonics (cryopreservation) to preserve a rabbit brain. From the press release http://www.brainpreservation.org/small-mammal-announcement/:
The Small Mammal Brain Preservation Prize has officially been won by
researchers at 21st Century Medicine. Using a combination of ultrafast
chemical fixation and cryogenic storage, it is the first demonstration
that near perfect, long-term structural preservation of an intact
mammalian brain is achievable.
In regard to reinstantiation of memories and/or creating consciousness: when progressive innovations in technology enable mapping of the entire connectome, the next step is applying a "runtime" to the structure. This runtime is described as "cycles" by György Buzsáki in his book Rhythms of the Brain.
In a sequence of "cycles," György Buzsáki guides the reader from the
physics of oscillations through neuronal assembly organization to
complex cognitive processing and memory storage.
The OpenWorm project is an example of contemporary connectome innovation, which is a necessary step for the memory/consciousness side of BP. From http://www.openworm.org:
OpenWorm is an open source project dedicated to creating the world’s
first virtual organism in a computer, a C.elegans nematode. Throughout
the years we have built a network of relationships with with many
biologists and neuroscientists interested in C. elegant.
Because a lone connectome is a snapshot of pathways through which
information might flow in an incredibly dynamic organ, it cannot
reveal how neurons behave in real time, nor does it account for the
many mysterious ways that neurons regulate one another's behavior.
Without such maps, however, scientists cannot thoroughly understand
how the brain processes information at the level of the circuit. In
combination with other tools, the C. elegans connectome has in fact
taught scientists a lot about the worm's behavior; partial connectomes
that researchers have established in the crustacean nervous system
have been similarly helpful. Scientists are also learning how to make
connectomes faster than before and to enhance the information they
provide. Many researchers in the field summarize their philosophy like
this: "A connectome is necessary, but not sufficient."
I believe Stanford's computer model of an organism is in the scope of BP and could be the foundation of what eventually becomes entire brain/connectome virtualization. This breakthrough is an example of the technological capabilities in 2012. Now, in 2016 with AI tech on the rise, exponential progress in this field may become a reality in our lifetime.
[In 2012] Stanford researchers produce first complete computer model
of an organism. A mammoth effort has produced a complete computational
model of the bacterium Mycoplasma genitalium, opening the door for
biological computer-aided design.
Understanding how complex phenotypes arise from individual molecules
and their interactions is a primary challenge in biology that
computational approaches are poised to tackle. We report a whole-cell
computational model of the life cycle of the human pathogen Mycoplasma
genitalium that includes all of its molecular components and their
interactions. An integrative approach to modeling that combines
diverse mathematics enabled the simultaneous inclusion of
fundamentally different cellular processes and experimental
measurements. Our whole-cell model accounts for all annotated gene
functions and was validated against a broad range of data. The model
provides insights into many previously unobserved cellular behaviors,
including in vivo rates of protein-DNA association and an inverse
relationship between the durations of DNA replication initiation and
replication. In addition, experimental analysis directed by model
predictions identified previously undetected kinetic parameters and
biological functions. We conclude that comprehensive whole-cell models
can be used to facilitate biological discovery.