Alcor Life Extension Foundation
The Alcor Life Extension Foundation is a Scottsdale, Arizona, USA-based nonprofit company that researches, advocates for and performs cryonics, the preservation of humans after legal death in liquid nitrogen, with hopes of restoring them to full health when new technology is developed in the future. There is no scientific evidence to support such hopes for human bodies preserved with current technology.
In 1972, Alcor was incorporated as the Alcor Society for Solid State Hypothermia in the State of California by Fred and Linda Chamberlain. (The name was changed to Alcor Life Extension Foundation in 1977.) The nonprofit organization was conceived as a rational, technology-oriented cryonics organization that would be managed on a fiscally conservative basis. Alcor advertised in direct mailings and offered seminars in order to attract members and bring attention to the cryonics movement. The first of these seminars attracted 30 people.
On July 16, 1976, Alcor performed its first human cryopreservation. That same year, research in cryonics began with initial funding provided by the Manrise Corporation. At this time, Alcor’s office consisted of a mobile surgical unit in a large van. Trans Time, Inc., a cryonics organization in the San Francisco Bay Area, provided long-term patient storage until Alcor began doing its own storage in 1982.
In 1977, articles of incorporation were filed in Indianapolis by the Institute for Advanced Biological Studies (IABS) and Soma, Inc. IABS was a nonprofit research startup led by a young cryonics enthusiast named Steve Bridge, while Soma was intended as a for-profit organization to provide cryopreservation and human storage services. Its president, Mike Darwin, subsequently became a president of Alcor. Bridge filled the same position many years later. IABS and Soma relocated to California in 1981. (Soma was disbanded while IABS merged with Alcor in 1982.)
In 1978, Cryovita Laboratories was founded by Jerry Leaf, who had been teaching surgery at UCLA. Cryovita was a for-profit organization which provided cryopreservation services for Alcor in the 1980s. During this time Leaf also collaborated with Michael Darwin in a series of hypothermia experiments in which dogs were resuscitated with no measurable neurological deficit after hours in deep hypothermia, just a few degrees above zero Celsius. The blood substitute which was developed for these experiments became the basis for the washout solution used at Alcor. Together, Leaf and Darwin developed a standby-transport model for human cryonics cases with the goal of intervening immediately after cardiac arrest and minimizing ischemic injury. (Leaf was cryopreserved by Alcor in 1991; since 1992 Alcor has provided its own cryopreservation as well as patient-storage services.) Today, Alcor is the only full-service cryonics organization that performs remote standbys.
Alcor grew slowly in its early years. The organization counted only 50 members in 1985, which was the year it cryopreserved its third patient.
In 1986 some of Alcor’s members formed Symbex, a small investment company which funded a building in Riverside, California, for lease by Alcor. Alcor moved from Fullerton, California, to the new building in Riverside in 1987. Alcor cryopreserved a member’s companion animal in 1986, and two people in 1987. Three human cases were handled in 1988, and one in 1989.
By 1990 Alcor had grown to 300 members. In response to concerns that the California facility was too small and vulnerable to earthquake risk, the organization purchased a building in Scottsdale, Arizona in 1993 and moved its patients to it in 1994. In 1997, after a substantial effort led by then-president Steve Bridge, Alcor formed the Patient Care Trust as an entirely separate entity to manage and protect the funding for cryopatients. Alcor remains the only cryonics organization to segregate and protect patient funding in this way.
In 2001 Alcor adapted cryoprotectant formulas from published scientific literature into a more concentrated formula capable of achieving ice-free preservation (vitrification) of the human brain (neurovitrification). In 2005 the vitrification process was applied to the first whole-body subject (as opposed to brain-only). This resulted in vitrification of the brain and conventional cryopreservation of the rest of the body. Work is continuing towards achieving whole-body vitrification, which is limited by the ability to fully circulate the cryoprotectant throughout the body.
Before the company moved to Arizona from Riverside, California in 1994, it became a center of controversy when a county coroner ruled that an Alcor client Dora Kent was murdered with barbiturates before her head was removed by the company's staff. Alcor contended that the drug was administered after her death. No charges were ever filed; however, former Riverside County deputy coroner Alan Kunzman claims this is due to mistakes and poor decision-making by his office.
In 2002, Alcor drew considerable attention when baseball star Ted Williams was placed in cryonic suspension. This grew out of an extended family dispute over how Williams wanted to have his remains disposed. In 2003, Sports Illustrated published allegations by former Alcor COO Larry Johnson that the company had mishandled Williams' head by drilling holes and accidentally cracking it. The story also reported that some of Williams' DNA was missing, possibly in connection with his son, John Henry Williams' desire to sell some of the DNA. Alcor denied the allegations, and explained that microscopic cracking can result as part of the process of freezing the head. John Henry Williams' remains are also stored at Alcor.
In addition, Johnson handed over to the police a taped conversation, in which Alcor facilities engineer Hugh Hixon reportedly stated that an Alcor employee deliberately hastened the 1992 death of a terminally ill AIDS patient, with an injection of Metubine, a paralytic drug.