A scientist in Italy says he could conceivably conduct a human head transplant within the next two years. One Indiana neurosurgeon says it might be possible eventually, but not that soon.
Dr. Sergio Canavero has gotten attention this week with his claim that he has outlined a way to successfully transplant a human head to another body, delicately attaching the spinal cord, blood vessels, nerves and everything else that would be necessary for a person to survive. “It’s fairly easy to propose a theory like that, because you don’t have to back it up,” said Dr. Jean-Pierre Mobasser, a neurosurgeon with Goodman Campbell Brain and Spine in Indianapolis. “He lays out (in the journal Neurology International) exactly how he would recommend doing the procedure, but I think there are a lot of limitations to this being practical and working in reality.”
Canavero claims to have solved the problem that plagued the attempt to transplant the heads of monkeys more than 40 years ago – the reattachment of the spinal cord. While a monkey’s head was transplanted onto another body, the monkey died eight days later because the spinal cord was not reconnected. But Mobasser says there is more to worry about than just connecting the spinal cord. “You have to reconnect the carotid artery, you have to hope that the brain doesn’t suffer a stroke in the process, and you have to hope that the brain doesn’t suffer ischemia (insufficient blood flow) during the surgery to reconnect all of these structures,” said Mobasser.
If he had another $30 million for research, Canavero claims he could complete a head transplant within two years. Mobasser says he doesn’t buy that timeline, but says he doesn’t rule out a successful head transplant as medical technology advances. “If he had said this may occur within the next century, he may be right,” said Mobasser. “Certainly, we have made large jumps in transplant surgeries and treatments of autoimmune rejection system, but reattaching the spinal cord has always been the limiting factor for surgeries such as this.
Both doctors believe that if head transplants were possible, they would only benefit a limited group of people, someone with Musular Dystrophy or some other disorder that halts the proper function of someone’s body. But even if it’s possible, many will still wonder if it is ethical, something even Canavero is wondering. “If it’s something that’s ever done in the future, there will have to be some very strict guidelines before it’s allowed to occur,” said Mobasser.
Of course, when you think of head, there’s only one place to go…back in time to ECW..