Published July 02, 2013
One neuroscientist may soon get the nickname Dr. Frankenstein after making an ambitious claim about a completely novel medical procedure that has many experts’ ‘heads spinning.’
In a recent paper in the journal Surgical Neurology International, Dr. Sergio Canevero, a member of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group, asserted that it soon may be possible to conduct full human head transplants, noting that they have been done in animals for the past 40 years, Quartz reported.
According to Canevero, the technical barriers that come with grafting one individual’s head to another person’s body can now be overcome. However, the main issue scientists have had with animal head transplants has been being unable to connect the spinal cord of the head to the donor’s body. This leaves the animal paralyzed from the neck down.
But recent medical advancements regarding the reconnection of surgically severed spinal cords has lead Canevero to believe the procedure can be done.
“It is my contention that the technology only now exists for such linkage,” he wrote in the paper “….[S]everal up to now hopeless medical connections might benefit from such a procedure.”
In his paper, Canevero details a head transplant procedure similar to that of Robert White – a neurosurgeon famous for his head transplants in living monkeys. In order for the process to work, both the donor and recipient must be in the same operating room, and the donated head must be cooled to between 54.6 and 59 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, surgeons must rapidly remove both heads at the exact same time, reconnecting the new head to the recipient’s body and circulatory system within one hour.
Once the new head is connected, the donor’s heart can be restarted – and the surgeons can continue to reconnect the head to the body’s spinal cord and to other vital systems, Quartz reported.
Canevero said that encouraging the body’s natural healing mechanisms help to connect the spinal cords together, but it’s imperative that the spinal cord be cut with an extremely thin knife.
“It is this ‘clean cut’ [which is] the key to spinal cord fusion, in that it allows proximally severed axons to be ‘fused’ with their distal counterparts,” Canevero wrote. “This fusion exploits so-called fusogens/sealants….[which] are able to immediately reconstitute (fuse/repair) cell membranes damaged by mechanical injury, independent of any known endogenous sealing mechanism.”
This type of procedure could not be used to help those with spinal cord injuries, however. Also, the ethics surrounding this type of surgery are hotly debated.