LONDON — It might sound like something from a science fiction movie, but an Italian doctor says full-body transplants, where a living person’s head would be attached to a donor body, could be possible in two years.
Sergio Canavero, of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group in Italy, first proposed the idea of transplanting a head onto someone else’s body in 2013, but he’s moving things forward by announcing the project at the American Academy of Neurological and Orthopaedic Surgeons in Maryland in June where he’ll seek support and sponsors for it.
Canavero’s idea is based on a controversial operation where the whole head of a monkey was transplanted onto a different body.
In 1970, Dr. Robert White, a neurosurgeon, completed a procedure between two rhesus monkeys, but the monkey that received the transplant died after nine days. White’s animal head transplant experiments were called grotesque and barbaric.
In an article published this month in Surgical Neurology International, Canavero writes that the process hinges on the reconnection of the severed stumps of the two spinal cords involved.
In a procedure he calls “GEMINI spinal cord fusion” he writes that the “key” to it is the “sharp severance of the cords themselves” with minimal damage.
However, other surgeons have expressed doubt about the procedure ever happening.
“This is such an overwhelming project, the possibility of it happening is very unlikely,” Harry Goldsmith, a clinical professor of neurological surgery at the University of California, Davis, told New Scientist.
“I don’t believe it will ever work, there are too many problems with the procedure.”
And even if the procedure is theoretically possible, Canavero’s biggest problem could be be finding a country that will allow him to do it.
“The real stumbling block is the ethics,” he told New Scientist. “Should this surgery be done at all? There are obviously going to be many people who disagree with it.”
Even if the U.S. or Europe won’t back the procedure, Canavero hinted he’d go elsewhere.
“If society doesn’t want it, I won’t do it. But if people don’t want it in the US or Europe, that doesn’t mean it won’t be done somewhere else. I’m trying to go about this the right way, but before going to the moon, you want to make sure people will follow you.”
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