Ok, so Italian Surgeon Sergio Canavero is looking for some face time on the news. He’s making a splash saying a head transplant will be possible by 2017. First, let’s get this out of the way. You’re not getting a new head. Sorry, you’re stuck with that dome.
What this actually is, if possible, is your head being put on a donor body. And half of LA’s population just sat up in their seats. They’d raise their eyebrows, but that’s already done on a permanent basis.
Outside of other surgeons recoiling in horror and dismissing Sergio out of hand, he did explain the technology to do such an operation is not far off. Seriously, if we can do this, why do we not have Star Trek-style spaceships yet?
“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,” he said. “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.”
Issues With Body/Head Transplant
Let’s start with technical issues. One is reattaching spinal nerves and making them work again. If and when this becomes possible, paralyzed patients with spinal cord injuries could have surgery to regain the ability to walk.
“There is no evidence that the connectivity of cord and brain would lead to useful sentient or motor function following head transplantation,” Richard Borgens, director of the Center for Paralysis Research at Purdue University.
Another glaring issue is the ethics of it. Don’t expect any review board to sign off on animal testing. No board in their right mind will let doctors experiment on primates in this fashion. The uproar would be instant and sustained.
Under Dr. Canavero’s proposed plan, the patient’s head and donor body would be cooled to preserve cell life. Then the neck is cut through with the blood vessels linked up with thin tubes. Using a sharp knife to minimize nerve damage, the spinal cord is then severed.
From there, the head is moved to the donor’s body. Canavero believes the spinal cord nerves can be fused with polyethylene glycol. The patient would be kept in a coma for weeks to prevent movement.
A year of physiotherapy would be needed according to the doctor to complete the recovery process. And, enough psychotherapy to fill up a couple calendars. Psychological trauma is often reported with transplantation surgeries, with recipients hating them and having them removed.
Crazy? Probably, but any massive leaps in medicine is often derided as crazy. Maybe his idea spurs a technique not thought of for spinal cord injuries. You just don’t know who will read the outlines and a light bulb goes off for a new treatment.
It’s interesting, and I will officially be horrified anytime I have surgery now.