Doc says a head can be put on another body (Video)
Could doctors transplant another head onto a body in the near future? Italian surgeon, Sergio Canavero believes head transplants are possible, and is confident he can perform the £7.5milllion operation.
According to him, the techniques allows the patient’s head be grafted onto a healthy body. Paralysed patients and those with incurable illness could benefit, but each operation will cost an estimated £7.5million to complete
Dr Canavero said both heads would be removed at the same time, he would then glue the patient’s head onto the donor’s body. It sounds like the plot of a bad horror film, but doctors are gearing up to do the world’s first head transplant.
Canavero wants to take the head from someone with an incurable illness and graft it on to a healthy body. He claims the first operation could be done in just two years’ time. Canavero said his new body swap technique would initially be used to give a new lease of life to paralysed people – including those with spinal cord injuries similar to those sustained by the late actor Christopher Reeve.
People with muscle-wasting diseases and those whose organs are riddled with cancer could also have their head put on a new body.
Those with motor neurone disease, the condition suffered by Stephen Hawking and portrayed by Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne in the film ‘The Theory of Everything’, might also benefit.
Eventually, the technique could be used to extend the life of healthy people in the ‘ultimate cosmetic surgery’.
Critics have described the plans as ‘pure fantasy’, but Dr. Canavero claims all the necessary techniques exist and that he just needs to put them together. It is already more than 40 years since the first monkey head transplant and a basic operation on a mouse has just been done in China.
Dr. Canavero already has a long list of potential patients, and will announce his plans at a top medical conference this summer in a bid to get the backing needed to do the first transplant in 2017.
The location has yet to be decided, but the surgeon, from the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group, says he would love to do it in London.
The new body would come from a normal transplant donor who is brain dead. Both the donor and the patient would have their head severed from their spinal cord at the same time, using an ultra-sharp blade to give a clean cut. The patient’s head would then be moved on to the donor’s body and attached using a ‘glue’ called polyethylene glycol to fuse the two ends of the spinal cord together.
The muscles and blood supply would be stitched up, before the patient is put in a coma for four weeks to stop them moving while the head and body heal together.
If that doesn’t sound bizarre enough, they would then be given small electric shocks to stimulate their spinal cord and strengthen the connections between their head and new body.
When the patient is brought out of their medically-induced coma, they should be able to move, feel their face and even speak with the same voice. Powerful immunosuppressant drugs should stop the new body from being rejected and intensive psychological support would also be provided.
Dr Canavero says he believes it would be ethically sound to carry out the procedure when people have no other hope of a cure.
However, the ethical arguments extend past the transplant itself.
For instance, if the patient went on to have children, they would biologically belong to the donor because the sperm or eggs would have come from the new body.
Initially, a shortage of donors means that the surgery would be limited to those with severe illness. But eventually, it could be used to allow healthy people to live longer.
Dr. Canavero said that if science reaches the stage when human cloning is easy, a 60-year-old could make a copy of themselves.
They could then put their old head on a new, healthy body made from their own DNA – meaning they would keep their memories and personality.
William Matthews, chairman of the American Academy of Neurological and Orthopaedic Surgeons, said: ‘I embrace the concept of spinal fusion and I think there are a lot of areas that a head transplant could be used but I disagree with Canavero on the timing.
‘He thinks it’s ready, I think it’s far into the future.’
But Harry Goldsmith, a California doctor who has carried out one of the few operations that has allowed someone with a spinal cord injury to walk again, said: ‘I don’t believe it will ever happen.’
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