22 September 2022 Elizabeth Tan

What is Cryopreservation?

Cryopreservation uses very low temperatures to preserve living cells and structurally intact tissues. While this imagery evokes scenes from science fiction movies, cryopreservation is something that occurs in our everyday lives. A simple illustration would be how leftover food can last only days in the fridge but possibly months in the freezer. The length of time we can store the food is directly related to the temperature at which it is stored.

This same principle applies to cryopreservation. The process, while slightly different from putting food in the freezer, consists of preparing the cells, placing them in the freezer and eventually taking them out to thaw when required.


How does cryopreservation work? 

Unlike last night’s leftovers, cells require more effort than tossing them in the freezer. As a first step, cryoprotectants are added to the cells to protect them from harm. Cryoprotectants are substances that manage the water inside the cells to prevent ice from forming. When the water in the cells turns into ice, the volume increases. If this occurs in cells, then the cells will break apart and die. Different cells also use different cryoprotectants. Some cryoprotectants are removed when the cells are thawed; others are diluted.

However, cryoprotectants are highly toxic and can damage the cells they are meant to protect. As such, not many cells survive the cryopreservation process. However, without them, the cells would not survive at all. 

The next step will be to cool the cells to the right temperature. Although cells usually require different temperatures for ideal cryopreservation, a typical temperature is -196°C. These cells will also need to be cooled at the correct rate because if the process is done too fast or too slowly, it can damage the cells beyond repair. In order to cool these cells to -196℃ , liquid nitrogen is used. Nitrogen becomes a liquid at -196℃ and can cause rapid freezing when it comes in contact with cells. 

The thawing process usually involves warming the cells at the correct rate to restore them to their original state.


The Future of Cryopreservation

Most of the technologies used for cryopreservation have been around since the 1950s and have made many advancements since then. Some promising new areas of development include cellular preservation, increasing cell viability and performance post-thaw, amongst others.

The University of Alberta in Canada houses one of the world’s only graduate programs in cryopreservation. Dr. Jason Acker, co-Founder and CEO of PanTHERA Cryosolutions, heads the lab and program. Most of Dr. Acker’s graduate students specialize in cellular therapy programs, paving the way for exciting discoveries in the treatment of blood cancers.

The applications of cryopreservation can range from agriculture to ecology, cell and gene therapy, and tissue and organ preservation, to name a few. For example, scientists are tapping into frozen sperm to save endangered salmon. The declining numbers for the salmon population in Canada are mainly due to natural disasters. Cryopreservation can help save endangered species which otherwise will go extinct.

One of the essential focus areas for cryopreservation is the inhibition of ice formation and growth within the cells. Dr. Acker and Dr. Ben have developed a compound inhibiting cellular ice formation and growth during cryopreservation. This product is presently being developed and will be commercialized by PanTHERA Cryosolutions. This groundbreaking product challenges the frontiers of cryopreservation and takes cellular preservation to the next level.


About PanTHERA CryoSolutions

PanTHERA CryoSolutions is a Canadian corporation that designs and manufactures cryopreservation solutions for cells, tissues and organs for research and clinical markets. Our patented ice recrystallization inhibitor (IRI) technology exceeds other products by providing superior cryopreservation and increasing post-thaw cell recovery and function for our customers. The technology enables the use of significantly less costly storage and transportation systems limiting the need for liquid nitrogen use for some cell therapy applications.