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Thermal Conductivity of Cryoprotective Agents with Applications to Cryopreservation by Vitrification

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posted on 01.04.2017, 00:00 by Lili E. Ehrlich

Cryopreservation is the preservation of biomaterials at extremely low temperatures. It is the only alternative for long-term storage of high quality biomaterials, with applications to biobanking and transplant medicine. Cryopreservation success revolves around the control of ice formation, which is known to be harmful. Ice formation is a path-dependent phenomenon, affected by the thermal history and presence of nucleation promotors. Cryoprotective agents (CPAs) are commonly added to the biomaterial to be preserved, in order to suppress ice formation and inhibit its growth during the cryopreservation protocol. Ice-free cryopreservation can be achieved in large-size systems when the biomaterial is loaded with a high CPA concentration solution and cooled rapidly, in a process that is known as vitrification (vitreous means glassy in Latin). During vitrification, the CPA viscosity increases exponentially with decreasing temperature, while the material is cooled to deep cryogenic temperatures faster than the typical time scale for crystallization. The material can potentially be stored indefinitely at such low temperatures. Large-size vitrification is associated with three competing needs on the CPA concentration. Since the cooling rate at the center of the specimen decreases with the increasing specimen size due to the scaling conductive resistance, higher CPA concentrations may be required to suppress crystallization in larger specimens. Higher CPA concentration generally requires lower cooling rates to avoid ice crystallization. On the other hand, since CPAs are potentially toxic, the lowest possible CPA concentration is required to maintain viability and facilitate functional recovery. The decrease in CPA concentration combined with an increase in cooling rates may intensify thermo-mechanical stress due to non-uniform thermal contraction to the point of structural destruction. Essentially, successful cryopreservation represents the outcome of an optimization problem on the composition and concentration of the CPA cocktail. The work presented in this thesis combines an experimental study on the thermal conductivity of relevant materials, and a theoretical study to identify the effects of the measured values on cryopreservation protocols. The unique contributions presented as the initial stage of the experimental study are: (i) the modification of the cryomacroscope and creation of an experimental program to make thermal conductivity measurements of CPA based on the existing transient hot wire technique, (ii) to develop a protocol for making thermal conductivity measurements during rewarming portion of the cryoprotocol, and (iii), to begin generating a data bank of thermal conductivity of CPA and materials used in cryopreservation. Thermal conductivity measurements are presented for the CPA Dimethyl Sulfoxide (DMSO), over a concentration range of 2M to 10M, in a temperature range of -180°C to 25°C. Samples of 2M to 6M DMSO were found to crystallize at quasi-steady cooling rates, while samples of 7.05 to 10M were found to vitrify. Thermal conductivities of the crystallized and vitrified material reach a tenfold difference at -180°C. The quality of measurements using the presented technique has been verified theoretically by means of finite element analysis (FEA) using the commercial code ANSYS. This experimental study is expanded to the study of thermal conductivity of the CPA cocktail DP6--a mixture of 3M DMSO and 3M propylene glycol, which has drawn significant attention in the cryobiology community in recent times. The unique contributions are the first thermal conductivity measurements reported in literature of the combined effect of DP6 with synthetic ice modulators (SIMs), including 6% 1,3Cyclohexanediol, 6% 2,3Butanediol, and 12% PEG400. Results of this study demonstrate that the thermal conductivity may vary by three fold between the amorphous and crystalline phases of DP6 below the glass transition temperature. Results of this study further demonstrate the ability of SIMs to decrease the extent of crystallization in DP6, even at subcritical cooling and rewarming rates. The accompanying theoretical investigation focuses on cryopreservation in a kidney model, in effort to explore how the thermal history is affected by variations in the measured thermal conductivity. This analysis is based on FEA using the commercial code ANSYS. In particular, the unique contributions of this study are: (i) thermal analysis of a vitrifying rabbit kidney based on an established rabbit-kidney cryopreservation protocol, and (ii), exploring scale-up thermal effects to a human-size organ. This represents a 21-fold increase in organ size. Results indicate that even in the case of the human kidney, cooling rates remain high enough in all parts of the kidney to prevent ice formation at temperatures above -100oC.




Degree Type



Mechanical Engineering

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Yoed Rabin,Jonathan Malen