Y Combinator is a startup accelerator that has built a reputation in supporting daring startups in its popular three-month boot camp. And surely, regarding this statement, they have found a gem in Nectome.
Next week scheduled YC’s “demo days”, Nectome’s co-founder Robert McIntyre will demonstrate his technology for preserving brains in their most microscopic detail using a high-tech embalming procedure. The business pitch the MIT graduate will conduct will most probably include the company’s catchphrase “What if we told you we could back up your mind?”
Nectome is a think-outside-the-box company that has the ambition of preserving brains and upload its content, just like we do with our mobiles on the cloud, except that it will be with our brains and memories… The chemical solution the company concocted is reported to be able to keep a body intact for hundreds of years, maybe even thousands, resembling a statue of frozen glass. The drive of the company is to be able to scan the complex human brain and retrieve data for computer simulation. This way, someone in the future could live your experiences.
But the procedure comes at a costly price. To ‘enjoy’ Nectome’s service, the brain has to be fresh and the intervention is “100 percent fatal” according to the company. Therefore, death is inevitable. The brain testing company, therefore, plans to sell its service to people with terminal illnesses by connecting them with a heart-lung machine and pumping the mix of scientific embalming chemicals in the big carotid arteries in their neck while they are still alive, but anesthetized.
The preservation procedure takes around six hours and was tested on a 2 hours dead elderly woman at a mortuary. Founder McIntyre stated that the brain they performed their test on is “one of the best-preserved ever,” but the fact that she was already dead for two hours meant the brain was a bit damaged. While her brain will not be preserved forever, the company is slicing it into paper-thin sheets and analyzed with an electron microscope.
“You can think of what we do as a fancy form of embalming that preserves not just the outer details but the inner details,” says McIntyre
While the concept does sound crazy, the company are going forward with their idea and we must maybe not write them off too soon. The company obtained a colossal federal grant of $960,000 and they are collaborating with top MIT neuroscientist Edward Boyden. Additionally, Nectome won an $80,000 science prize for preserving a pig’s brain so perfectly that every synapse inside it could be seen under an electron microscope.
Nectome’s storage service is not yet on the market and might not be in the immediate future. They still lack the proof that memories can be retrieved from dead tissue and they have really no way of scaling the market demand. By taking inspiration from electric-vehicle manufacturer Tesla, they are measuring the demand by inviting potential customers to join their waiting list for a $10,000 deposit fee, which is fully redeemable if the customer changes his/her mind. 25 people have joined the waiting list up to now. Among those ‘customers’, is Sam Altman, creator of Y Combinator program and investor who stated, “I assume my brain will be uploaded to the cloud.”
Ken Hayworth, a neuroscientist and president of the Brain Preservation Foundation, organizer of the science competition won by Nectome for preserving the pig brain said, “If the brain is dead, it’s like your computer is off, but that doesn’t mean the information isn’t there.”
Nectome is not ambitioning to preserve brain tissues to bring them back to life, but recollecting information present in the brain’s anatomical layout and molecular details.