MIT severs ties with startup promising a brain backup, preservation

April 4 (UPI) — The Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced it is severing ties with a startup that wants to store people’s brain memories, a process that is not yet possible — but is “100 percent fatal.”

Last month, Nectome’s partnership, research and business model was detailed by the MIT Technology Review.

The company was collaborating with University professor Edward Boyden, who was attempting to combine Nectome’s work with his own research into mice brains.

“Upon consideration of the scientific premises underlying the company’s commercial plans, as well as certain public statements that the company has made, MIT has informed Nectome of its intent to terminate the subcontract between MIT and Nectome in accordance with the terms of their agreement,” MIT wrote in a blog post Monday.

“Neuroscience has not sufficiently advanced to the point where we know whether any brain preservation method is powerful enough to preserve all the different kinds of biomolecules related to memory and the mind. It is also not known whether it is possible to recreate a person’s consciousness.”

Nectome responded in a statement provided to the MIT Technology Review: “We appreciate the help MIT has given us, understand their choice, and wish them the best.”

The company has received $120,000 from Y Combinator, which is an American seed accelerator started in March 2005. Nectome also received a $960,000 grant from the U.S.National Institute of Mental Health “will create technologies to enable whole-brain nanoscale preservation and imaging, a vital step towards a deep understanding of the mind and of the brain’s diseases.”

After MIT Technology Review first reported the involvement Nectome’s plans and the educational establishment’s own involvement, the concept was sharply criticized by experts in the field.

“It is so unethical — I can’t describe how unethical it is,” Sten Linnarsson of the Karolinska Institute told the MIT Technology Review.

He said the collaboration with MIT increased the possibility “some people actually kill themselves to donate their brains.”

“It is so unethical — I can’t describe how unethical it is,” says Linnarsson. “That is just not something we do in medical research.”

Nectome hopes one day to reconstruct a person’s memories but the brain must be preserved at the time of death, which is called vitrifixation.

Nectome plans to test its theories on the head of someone planning a doctor-assisted suicide and had consulted with lawyers familiar with California’s End of Life Option Act, which permits doctor-assisted suicide for terminal patients.

The service is “100 percent fatal,” McIntyre said. “That is why we are uniquely situated among the Y Combinator companies.”

But it is slowing its plans.

“We believe that clinical human brain preservation has immense potential to benefit humanity, but only if it is developed in the light, with input from medical and neuroscience experts,” Nectgome said on its website. “We believe that rushing to apply vitrifixation today would be extremely irresponsible and hurt eventual adoption of a validated protocol.”

The company was asking customers to join a waiting list for a deposit of $10,000, which is fully refundable if they change their mind. So far, 25 have signed up. Now, the company says money will be refunded.

Several years ago, McIntyre worked with cryobiologist Greg Fahy at a company named 21st Century Medicine, which combines embalming with cryonics.

“If the brain is dead, it’s like your computer is off, but that doesn’t mean the information isn’t there,” said Ken Hayworth, a neuroscientist who is president of the Brain Preservation Foundation.

The foundation gave the company an $80,000 prize for preserving a pig brain in which every synapse in the brain could be seen with an electron microscope.

In February, Nectome obtained the corpse of an elderly woman and begin preserving her brain just over two hours after her death.

Alcor Life Extension Foundation, of Arizona, holds 156 bodies and heads in liquid nitrogen, including baseball great Ted Williams.