Why the sci-fi dream of cryonics never died

The environment has shifted somewhat for Drake, who for the past seven years has served as director of medical response for the Alcor Life Extension Foundation. Although it’s a longtime leader in cryonics, Alcor remains a small nonprofit. It has been freezing the bodies and brains of its members since 1976, hoping to one day bring them back to life.

Foundations, and cryonics in general, have long existed outside of mainstream acceptance.Often shunned by the scientific community, cryonics is best known for its appearance in sci-fi movies such as 2001: A Space OdysseyBut its followers have held on to a dream that at some point in the future, advances in medicine will enable recovery and extra years on earth. Decades of tiny but tantalizing developments in related technology, along with high-profile frozen test subjects like Ted Williams, have kept hope alive. Today, nearly 200 deceased patients are frozen in Alcor’s cryogenic chamber at -196°C, including a handful of celebrities who have paid tens of thousands of dollars for “possible revival” and eventual “reintegration.”

But the recent involvement of Yinfeng marks a new era in cryonics. With impressive financial resources, government support and scientific staff, it is one of the few new experiments focused on expanding the appeal of cryonics to consumers and again trying to bring credibility to the long-debated theory of human resurrection one of the rooms. Just a year after Drake took over as research director at the Shandong Yinfeng Institute of Life Sciences, a subsidiary of Yinfeng Bio Group overseeing the cryonics program, the institute conducted its first cryopreservation. Its storage barrels now house about a dozen customers, who paid more than $200,000 to preserve the entire body.

Still, the field is rooted in belief, not any real evidence that it works. “It’s a desperate wish that reveals a terrible ignorance of biology,” said neuroscientist and professor Clive Cohen at King’s College London.

Even if one day you can perfectly thaw a frozen human body, you will only have a warm corpse in your hands.

The cryonics process typically goes like this: After a person dies, a response team begins cooling the body to cryogenic temperatures and performing cardiopulmonary support to maintain blood flow to the brain and organs. The cadavers are then transferred to a cryonics facility, where an organ-preserving solution is pumped into a vein, and the cadaver is immersed in liquid nitrogen. The process should begin within an hour of death – the longer you wait, the more damage you can do to your body’s cells. Then, once the frozen corpse is placed in a low temperature chamber, the hope of the dead begins.

Since its inception in the late 1960s, the field has been condemned by the scientific community, especially its more respected cousin, cryobiology—the study of how freezing and low temperatures affect organisms and biological materials. The Cryonics Society even banned its members from participating in cryonics in the 1980s, with a former society president slamming the field for being closer to “fraud than belief or science.”

In recent years, however, it has caught the attention of liberal techno-optimists, mostly tech tycoons who dream of their own immortality. Many new startups are expanding the playing field. For example, Berlin-based Tomorrow Biostasis became the first cryonics company in Western Europe in 2019, and in early 2022 Southern Cryonics opened a factory in Australia.

“More researchers are open to long-term, future topics than they were 20 years ago or so,” said Emil Kendziorra, founder of Tomorrow Biostasis.

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