Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero, believes that the first human head transplants will be conducted before 2017.
Canavero is from the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group in Italy. He and his group claim that surgeons will be able to transplant the head of one patient onto a completely different body.
Here’s an interview with Dr Sergio Canavero:
The idea was first proposed in 2013 by Canavero. He wants to use the surgery to extend the lives of people whose muscles and nerves have degenerated, or whose organs are riddled with cancer. Now he claims the major hurdles, such as fusing the spinal cord and preventing the body’s immune system from rejecting the head, are surmountable, and the surgery could be ready as early as 2017, reported New Scientist.
This video explains the procedure:
Canavero wants to announce his project at the annual conference of the American Academy of Neurological and Orthopaedic Surgeons (AANOS) in Maryland in June. He has published a summary of the techniques he believes will allow doctors to transplant a head onto a new body in the Surgical Neurology International.
The first time, with any success, in which one head was replaced by another, was in 1970. With a team led by Dr. Robert White at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio. They transplanted the head of one monkey onto the body of another. They did not try to join the spinal cords, so the monkey wasn’t able to move its body, but it was able to breathe with artificial assistance. The monkey lived for nine days until its immune system rejected the head.
With the many technical, not to mention ethical, issues involved, could human head transplants soon be a reality?
Canavero predicts that people with a head transplant would be able to move and feel their face, and would speak with the same voice. He says that physiotherapy would enable the person to walk within a year. Several people have already volunteered to get a new body, he says.
“There is no evidence that the connectivity of cord and brain would lead to useful sentient or motor function following head transplantation,” says Richard Borgens, director of the Center for Paralysis Research at Purdue University, Indiana.
Canavero’s procedure would require a patient to lie in a coma for up to four weeks while the spinal cord was fusing together, to ensure it didn’t get twisted out of place during movement. That’s also a potential problem, says Harry Goldsmith, a professor of neurosurgery at the University of California, Davis. Medically induced comas are usually a last resort for doctors, as they carry some risk of blood clots, infection, and reduced brain activity, reported Popular Science.
There are other doctors who do not believe this procedure is either possible or ethical. “He’s insane. You can’t put a head on somebody else!” says Binhai Zhang, a neurosurgeon at UC San Diego, according to Wired.
Perhaps all these problems could be worked out one day, although I’m not too sure if they should be. There are a lot of ethical issues for me, and just the thought of it gives me the creeps.