What happened to the first cryogenically frozen humans?

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Throughout history, from the ancient Egyptians to today’s tech billionaires, humans have been captivated by the quest to conquer death.

The concept of cryonics emerged in the mid-20th century, blending speculative science fiction with new scientific understandings of low-temperature biology. The core idea of cryonics is that by cooling a body to near-liquid nitrogen temperatures (-196 degrees Celsius), biological processes, including those that cause tissue decay post-mortem, can be halted.

The first known human cryopreservation occurred in 1967 with Dr. James Bedford, a psychology professor who died of cancer. Immediately following his death, his body was cooled with ice and transported to a cryonics facility in Arizona. There, his blood was replaced with a preservative solution, and his body was cooled using liquid nitrogen, a process called vitrification, which aims to prevent ice crystal formation that could damage tissues.

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Bedford’s body was then placed in a custom-made aluminum capsule and stored in a cryogenic dewar filled with liquid nitrogen. This preservation was funded by his own resources, with part of his estate allocated to maintaining his cryopreserved state. His body has been in cryostasis for over five decades, moving between different storage facilities over the years.

In 1991, Bedford’s cryonics capsule was transferred to Alcor Life Extension Foundation, a leading cryonics organization. An examination at that time reported that his body was still in relatively good condition.

Following Dr. Bedford, the next cryopreservations were less publicized, but his case spurred growing interest in cryonics. The Cryonics Society of California, involved in Bedford’s preservation, continued to cryopreserve individuals throughout the late 1960s and 1970s, with Robert Nelson, a key figure in Bedford’s preservation, playing a significant role in these efforts.

From a scientific perspective, the revival of cryopreserved bodies depends on future technologies capable of repairing or regenerating tissue at the molecular level, potentially involving advanced nanotechnology or stem cell therapy. Currently, no such technology exists, and the long-term biological viability of cryopreserved tissues remains unproven.

There are still many unanswered questions about cryonics. Will technology advance to the point where we can revive frozen bodies? And if it does, will the individuals who are revived be the same as they were before? These are the questions that keep me up at night—well, that and accidentally drinking a grande latte at 9 pm.