At the age of 18, Emil Kendziorra had a life plan.
First, he was going to become a doctor. Then he was going to make heaps of money. Then he was going to use that money to start a longevity business helping people (and himself) live a much longer life.
“One of the things that motivates me is the fear of death,” Kendziorra tells Sifted. “I don’t want to die."
The first bit of the plan went exactly as imagined.
He became a doctor. Then he made a lot of money in tech founding companies, including software business Solid Media, a restaurant review site Onfeedback and then doctor-on-demand-network Medlanes (which was acquired last month).
But there was a snag. When researching what was happening in the longevity sector to start his new business, he felt pessimistic that the science would go far enough in his lifetime so he and others really could live forever.
One of the things that motivates me is fear of death
This was a tough moment for the 35-year-old, who had to rethink the next stage of his life plans. “If you look at how far science has gotten, it is unlikely that a solution will be found within my lifetime,” he says.
This prompted him to take a new path, getting into an even more esoteric field: the cryogenic freezing of people on their deathbed.
He now has a business called Tomorrow Biostasis that — in exchange for an insurance payment of €30–€100 per month — will cryopreserve users’ bodies from -130 to -196 degrees celsius with the idea that they will one day be resurrected.
It’s part of a growing trend of companies getting into this field. But why is he freezing people? How does it work? And does it even work?
If there is a fair bit of scepticism out there about the whole science of longevity, or living forever, there is even more so about cryonics.
Cryonics is probably best known for showing up in films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Vanilla Sky or the television series Futurama.
The technology was also recently featured in a documentary on Netflix in which the parents of a terminally ill two-year-old decided to cryogenically preserve her brain.
The idea of inducing metabolic stasis in humans using cryogenic temperatures was proposed in the 1960s as a way of preventing structural decay of the brain, following the terminal failure of the body.
Indefinitely preserving the brain’s physical state was though to leave open the possibility of 'resuscitating consciousness': in other words, by restoring function to the brain using one of several theorised but as of yet undeveloped techniques — such as digital reconstruction or nanobot cellular repair.
The idea of the technology has long been to freeze the human body shortly after pronounced legally dead, replace the blood with a solution designed to preserve the organs and then adding a so-called 'cryoprotectant' solution that freezes cells without causing crystal formation. Then the body is kept in cold storage until the technology has developed enough to successfully revive the body.
The trouble is that this might, of course, never actually work — something Kendziorra readily admits. But he says that there are few scientists who say that this will definitely never be possible — just different ideas about how likely it is to ever work.
"From scientists in the community, that I would all say are good scientists, the range is from, 2%, to 90% [likelihood that it will work],” he says.
But just because it is described as science fiction doesn’t mean that one should give up, according to Kendziorra.
“The first heart transplant was done in 1967 and if you had asked doctors before that, if it was possible, their answer would probably have been ‘no, you are insane’. But that is not reason enough not to try making it happen.”
In late 2018, Kendziorra set up a company called Tomorrow Biostasis where people all over Europe are able to sign up for cryogenically freezing and storing when they die.
Working with big insurance companies, users pay a monthly fee for the right to be frozen. Similar to life insurance, it only is a guarantee as long as you are under the age of 60 or 70 depending on the plan.
So far the startup says it is on the trajectory of having 500 customers signed up in the next few months.
But even the freezing is hard.
“One thing that is very important, logistically speaking, is if someone dies, you need to be there quickly to start the cooldown process, otherwise the cell damage starts to happen”, Kendziorra says.
Alcor, one of the leading US companies when it comes to cryopreservation, believes that the process needs to start within minutes of death, however, this rarely happens due to delays at the hospital where the patient died.
Others would argue that severe cell damage caused by a body left dead for several hours, cannot be reversed, not even with the best medical nanorobots of the future.
Kendziorra is a bit more optimistic and Tomorrow Biostasis picks up people across Europe.
“We have a medical response team that has a specialised ambulance vehicle, which is basically a mobile operating room, that is dispatched to pick up the patient,” he says.
How it works
When the patient is ready for long-term storing, Tomorrow Biostasis uses non-profit organisations set up for this work.
According to Kendziorra, €100k is set aside for each patient. That money is then invested with the idea of 2–3% return of investment per year — 2% for inflation and 1% to pay for the storage of the body.
“The idea is that over time, even if it takes 50 or 100 years, you only use the interest and always keep the principle that you had in the beginning. Then you have this money available to pay for revival,” Kendziorra says.
And some of that money would also be put aside as pocket money after one is revived. Whether money even exists and how one would fit into society a century from now are two different questions.
Apart from Tomorrow Biostasis, there aren’t a lot of cryonic startups in Europe. According to Kendziorra, the Swiss-Russian company Kriorus had some internal problems that had a negative effect on the reputation of the company.
One thing that is very important, logistically speaking, is if someone dies, you need to be there quick to start the cooldown process, otherwise the cell damage starts to happen
Kendziorra believes that trust and stability are key for a cryonics company. So far Tomorrow Biostasis has only raised an undisclosed amount from angel investors in Berlin and Silicon Valley but is planning for a larger funding round for 2021.
If you want more companies to choose from, you'd better turn to the US.
Based in Arizona and by being around for 40 years, Alcor has perhaps helped the reputation of the technology, particularly in Silicon Valley.
To put yourself on ice is something that both PayPal founder Peter Thiel and computer scientist Ray Kurzweil have signed up to. In 2017, the AI-run hedge fund Numerai allowed employees cryonic body preservation as a benefit.
To be afraid of dying is not the only motivator for people that sign up for cryopreservation, according to Kendziorra.
“Apart from not liking the idea of non-existence, I believe that people, who want this, think positively about life and therefore want it for longer. Another common motivation is also a curiosity about how life will look in the future. I think it's always a combination of these three motivations. And I would say I subscribe to all of them,” he says.