To date, 199 people have had their heads and bodies cryopreserved at the Alcor Life Extension Foundation facility in hopes of being revived later. By preserving bodies at below-freezing temperatures, Alcor’s goal is “restoring good health with medical technology in the future,” according to the non-profit organization’s website. Packed together, cylindrical tanks filled with liquid nitrogen hold the heads and bodies of human “patients”—as the foundation calls them—plus about 100 preserved pets, reports Liliana Salgado for Reuters.
Some of the patients had terminal cases of diseases that lack a present-day cure, such as cancer or ALS. Max More, former CEO of Alcor who now serves as an ambassador and president emeritus of the foundation, tells Reuters that modern medicine and technology are insufficient to keep people alive as they’re nearing death.
But for those that participate, the cryopreservation process begins as soon as a person is declared legally dead, according to Alcor’s website. At this time, their organs are still viable. Acting quickly, a cryonics team that has usually been on standby, awaiting the patient’s death for up to a week, moves them to an ice bath replaces their blood with an organ-preserving solution. Once the patient arrives at Alcor’s Arizona facility, the team releases cryoprotectants, or chemicals that prevent the formation of ice crystals that may damage organs, into the patient’s bloodstream. Alcor cools the body to minus 320.8 degrees Fahrenheit and stores it in a tank filled with liquid nitrogen.
Here’s the catch: No cryonics organization knows how to bring life back to its preserved patients. Per Alcor, the non-profit has “confidence revival may be possible.”
Patients at the facility include software developer and Bitcoin pioneer Hal Finney, who died in 2014 from ALS, and baseball Hall of Famer Ted Williams, who died in 2002 from heart disease complications. Cryopreservation for an entire body at Alcor costs at least $200,000, and it costs $80,000 to preserve just a brain, per Reuters.
Despite there being no evidence that human cryopreservation actually works, cryonics advocates remain hopeful and cite scientific advances in which sperm, embryo and stem cells can be cryopreserved and thawed successfully, reports MIT Technology Review. In 2016, researchers at 21st Century Medicine cryopreserved and thawed a rabbit brain without causing structural damage, Aaron Frank wrote for Vice at the time.