The Alcor Life Extension Foundation, most often referred to as Alcor, is a Scottsdale, Arizona, USA-based nonprofit organization that researches, advocates for and performs cryonics, the preservation of humans in liquid nitrogen after legal death, with hopes of restoring them to full health when new technology is developed in the future.
As of November 30, 2014, Alcor had 1007 members, 134 associate members and 134 humans in cryopreservation, many as neuropatients (78 of Alcor patients were neuropatients or brain preservation patients as of November 2014). Alcor also cryopreserves the pets of members. As of November 15, 2007, there were 33 pets in suspension.
Alcor accepts anatomical donations (cryonics cases) under the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act and Arizona Anatomical Gift Act for research purposes, reinforced by a court case in its favor that affirmed a constitutional right to engage in cryopreservation and donate one’s body for the purpose. A form of the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act has been passed in all 50 states.
The organization was established as a nonprofit organization by Fred and Linda Chamberlain in California in 1972 as the Alcor Society for Solid State Hypothermia (ALCOR). Alcor was named after a faint star in the Big Dipper. The name was changed to Alcor Life Extension Foundation in 1977. The 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 on Fred Chamberlain’s father. That same year, research in cryonics began with initial funding provided by the Manrise Corporation. At that time, Alcors office consisted of a mobile surgical unit in a large van. Trans Time, Inc., a cryonics organization in the San Francisco Bay area, provided initial preservation procedures and 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 and transport services for Alcor in the 1980s until Leaf’s death, at which time Alcor began providing these services on its own. Leaf and Michael Darwin collaborated to bring the first cryonics patient, Dr. James Bedford, who was preserved in 1967, to Alcor’s California facility in 1982.
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. In 1984, it merged with the Cryonics Society of South Florida. Alcor counted only 50 members in 1985, which was the year it cryopreserved its third patient. However, during this time researchers associated with Alcor contributed some of the most important techniques related to cryopreservation, eventually leading to today’s method of vitrification.
Increasing growth in membership during this period is partially attributed to the 1986 publication of Eric Drexler’s Engines of Creation, which debuted the idea of nanotechnology and contained a chapter on cryonics. In 1986, a group of Alcor 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; Timothy Leary appeared at the grand opening. Alcor cryopreserved a members companion animal in 1986, and two people in 1987. Three human cases were handled in 1988, including the first whole body patient of Alcor’s, and one in 1989. At that time, Alcor owned 20% interest in Symbex, with a goal of 51% ownership. In September 1988, Leary announced that he had signed up with Alcor, becoming the first celebrity to become an Alcor member. Leary later switched to a different cryonics organization, CryoCare, and then changed his mind altogether. Alcor’s Vice-President, Director, head of suspension team and chief surgeon, Jerry Leaf, died suddenly of a heart attack in 1991.
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