Head transplants have been the stuff of Science fiction and horror films. The Frankenstein legend -in which a complete human being is constructed by sewing altered body parts together can now be a clinical reality, claims a Neuroscientist.
Doctor Sergio Canavero of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group has sketched out a medical modus operandi that according to him will help connect a brain to a spinal cord which is the foremost challenge for an operation of this level.
"It is my contention that the technology only now exists for such linkage," he wrote in the Surgical Neurology International journal.
But wouldn't this procedure cost a fortune?
Dr Canavero states one would have to shell out around $15 million for the operation alone!
He says he has come up with the human head transplant procedure by looking at successful head transplants of animals that were done as experiments back in the 70's. The procedure has been successfully performed on monkeys. The head of a rhesus monkey was transplanted to the body of another in a trial process. The monkey was able to smell, open its eyes and taste food yet because American Neurosurgeon Dr Robert White, who did the surgery couldn't reconnect the animal's spinal cord; it was left paralysed and died a few hours post the surgery.
The suggested head transplant by no means will be an easy task. The head to be transplanted would be cooled to between 12°C and 15°C. Surgeons would then have one hour to remove both heads and reconnect the transplant head to the circulatory system of the donor body. The spinal cord would be cut with a sharp scalpel and 'mechanically connected' to the other body.
While the head is reconnected, the donor body must be chilled and put into total cardiac arrest.
The donor body's heart could then be restarted once the head was reconnected. Dr Canavero argues that a "clean cut" by an ultra-sharp cutting implement was the key to success as it would allow the severed nerve cells to fuse with each other. It would take 100 surgeons three days to perform the operation, he says. Canavero also cites studies in which plastics such as polyethylene glycol (PEG) have been used to reconnect severed spinal cords in dogs.
Scientists at Case Western Reserve University demonstrated that they could now restore some neural connectivity in the spinal cords of rats.
Perhaps all those people who've made the decision to have their heads cryogenically frozen weren't out of their minds after all. So, whose body would you want your head attached to?