MIT Ends Contract With Nectome, the 100% Fatal Brain Freeze Startup

April 3, 2018, 5:36 PM UTC
Brain frozen with icicles hanging off it
Mike Kemp Images—Getty Images

Nectome, the brain preservation startup that has raised more than $200,000 in deposits from people who want to use the 100% fatal process, has lost a contract with MIT.

MIT Media Lab terminated a subcontract with Nectome following a report by MIT Technology Review that described the company’s promotion of its technology. Nectome’s brain storage service is not yet for sale. But it has taken deposits, including one from investor and Y Combinator president Sam Altman.

Nectome is developing a brain freeze technology that it says will preserve the neurons and synapses, and in turn, the memories stored there. It’s like a digital backup for your brain that will keep it—and its contents—preserved for centuries, the company claims.

The upshot? The process will kill you. In order to preserve the brain in microscopic detail, it has to be fresh. Nectome’s pitch: connect terminal patients to life support, put them under with anesthesia, and then fill the body with a chemical embalming cocktail through the carotid arteries while the customer is still alive. Nectome’s approach is similar to physician-assisted suicide.

Nectome had received nearly $1 million in federal funding from the National Institute of Mental Health. MIT is party to a subcontract under the NIMH small business grant awarded to Nectome. MIT Media Lab Professor Ed Boyden professor and neuroscientist Edward Boyden and his team were working on an academic research project to combine aspects of Nectome’s chemistry with the Boyden group’s invention called expansion microscopy, to better visualize mouse brain circuits for basic science and research purposes.

“Such a novel chemistry could, if achieved, facilitate brain disorder drug discovery, boost basic neuroscience circuit mapping, and facilitate brain banking for future research into health and disease states,” MIT said in a statement. However, the organization has decided to terminate the subcontract after reviewing the “scientific premises underlying the company’s commercial plans, as well as certain public statements that the company has made.”

Boyden is not personally affiliated with the company Nectome, according to MIT Media Lab, an interdisciplinary research lab that encourages the unconventional mixing and matching of seemingly disparate research areas..

MIT also notes that neuroscience has not advanced to the point to know whether any brain preservation method is powerful enough to preserve all the different kinds of biomolecules related to memory and the mind. Nor is it know whether it’s even possible to recreate a person’s consciousness.

In other words, if a person’s brain is later uploaded to an avatar or computer, whose to say that it is even conscious, MIT mused.

“To understand this will require new science that represents a nonlinear jump from the neuroscience occuring today, and some people regard this as an unsolvable problem (aka the “hard problem” of consciousness),” MIT said in its statement.

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