OAKLAND — A beagle named Miles, long ears dragging on the pale blue concrete floor of the laboratory, snuffled around the base of four nine-foot-high stainless steel tanks.
Inside the tanks are two whole bodies, two human heads and one human brain, frozen in liquid nitrogen and awaiting the day when they can be "reanimated" and returned to life.
What links Miles and those frozen corpses, stored in the lab at Trans Times Inc. here, is a widely publicized recent experiment that has revived public interest in--and scientific controversy over--the cryonics movement, which contends that frozen corpses may be revived by scientists in the future.
Many television stations and newspapers across the nation this spring reported that a UC Berkeley scientist had frozen Miles for 15 minutes and revived the beagle, then presented the results of the experiment to a meeting of scientists in Washington.
For the much-maligned cryonics movement, it seemed like a moment of vindication.
"Researchers Score Breakthrough in Suspended Animation," one headline read. Others included "Beagle Put in Suspended Animation," "Scientists Get Warm in Search for Way to Put Humans on Ice" and "Humans Can Be Frozen & Revived."
Photos and television film showed Miles padding about, obviously healthy and alert, while Paul E. Segall, the researcher who supervised the experiment, extolled it as the gateway to a cryonic future.
In the aftermath, a New York insurance company that markets "freeze-yourself" policies and the three cryonics societies active in freezing bodies--two of them in California--reported an explosion of inquiries from prospective clients and members.
However, a close examination of the Miles experiment and interviews with scientists in the field show that:
- Miles was chilled, but never frozen.
- The experiment was not new; dozens of dogs have been cooled in a similar manner over the last 20 years and knowledgeable researchers were appalled at the publicity the experiment received.
- The experiment did not overcome any of the objections most scientists have to the basic concept of cryonics.
- Segall, 44, is allowed to use laboratory facilities at UC Berkeley as an assistant to a friend on the faculty, but Segall is not on the faculty there and never has been.
- Segall's work is financed by cryonics groups that are linked to "freeze-yourself" insurance policies, and Segall has himself been deeply involved in the cryonics movement--emotionally, professionally and financially--for more than 20 years.
"He has certainly lost some respect among his scientific colleagues for associating his experiments with furthering the cryonics movement," said one researcher, who asked not to be named, but who was described by a number of others in the field as one of the leading cryobiologists in the nation.
Although Segall was frequently referred to as a "UC Berkeley scientist" in stories about the Miles experiment, he is not on the faculty there and never has been, said Robert I. Macey, chairman of the physiology department.
Since taking his Ph.D. in physiology at Berkeley in 1976, Segall has been a teaching assistant and "visiting scientist," which Macey described as "some kind of courtesy appointment" that allows him to work in the laboratory of Paula Timiras, whom others on the faculty described as a friend of Segall.
"He's never been on the payroll here," Macey said. Segall disputes that statement, saying "There is an effort to misrepresent me and discredit my work."
Segall acknowledged that he is not on the university payroll, but said he receives grant money for specific research projects. He says he was a teaching associate in the physiology of aging at UC Berkeley from 1975 to 1983. The school describes the position as a graduate teaching assistant post. He has taught in the university's extension program and lectured at Cal State Hayward and at Holy Names College in Oakland. Segall insists that he should be classed as a faculty member since he has laboratory privileges and students. The students, however, are enrolled in Timiras' classes, with Segall as an assistant to her.
Defends His Role
In his defense, Segall says he did not seek the publicity that his experiment received and that he did not lie to anyone. The organizers of the scientific meeting chose to publicize his presentation and reporters misinterpreted his work, he says.
But Segall, in interviews, moves rapidly from the details of the Miles experiment to describing it as "the doorway to suspended animation" and is an unabashed enthusiast for cryonics.
Such advocates of "suspended animation" are at odds with most researchers in the science of low temperature biology. The 400 scientists who belong to the international Society for Cryobiology refer to their field, which studies the processes of life at low temperatures, as cryobiology (from kryos, the Greek word for freezing cold ) . The resurrection movement uses the term cryonics.