One of the most memorable developments in the original Star Wars films saw Han Solo 'frozen' alive in a block of carbonite. It's a great sci-fi idea... but could we actually freeze a human being in the near future?
Dr Matthew Gibson from the Department of Chemistry at the University of Warwick, and he spoke to Jonathan McCrea on this week's Futureproof about the feasibility and challenges of freezing a human.
Listen to the interview below:
"Freezing of waters is actually a lot more complex than you'd image," Dr Gibson explained. "Because we're just so much [water], it would be impossible - the ice would just tear our cells apart in normal circumstances.
"The best way of thinking about it, is if you have some frozen fruit in your freezer... when you thaw them out, they're not intact. They're actually quite gooey, a lot of liquid comes out of them. That's exactly the same process that happens to our cells if you try to freeze them," he added.
Dr Gibson and his team's research is interested in "not just blood, but any cells and tissues that can be used in transplant therapy... What we'd like to do is make it easier to freeze cells and tissues so we can even out demand, and maybe even have banks of tissues that are ready and frozen".
"The bit we look at is the thawing. We were really interested in how fish survive in the Arctic Ocean... they do this by making proteins... called 'antifreeze' proteins. They can bind to ice crystals and stop them growing any bigger," he explained.
"What we do is... we try to make bio-compatible polymers. They're cheaper, they're easier to remove, they have a very low toxicity. What we've done is if you add this to human blood... what it allows us to do is transform how many of those survived the freezing process... We add about 0.1% of the solution is our polymer, which is a lot less than all the traditional solutions currently being used".
However Dr Gibson concludes by saying full human freezing "is a very, very long way off yet - even though it happened a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away".
Dr Matthew Gibson will be giving a talk at the Cheltenham Science Festival next month called 'How to Freeze a Human’. The festival is running from between 2nd-7th June, and you can click here for more details.
You can listen back to all of this week's Futureproof via the podcast below: