Cackling maniac Italian scientist Sergio Canavero of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group has claimed that human head transplants are viable- and deliverable - by 2017, reports New Scientist. Canavero's plan is to use the surgery to extend the life of people who's bodies are knackered - such as those riddled with cancer or wasted by degenerative disease - by transplanting their head onto a new body.
Head transplants have been tried on animals in the past (go science!) with a monkey's head grafted onto another monkey's body back in 1970 (why they didn't they go all out and just slap the monkey head onto a feline body to create a monkat we'll never know). Inevitably the monkey was completely unable to do anything with it's new body, and died nine painful days after the surgery was completed.
Now, however, Canavero claims that science has developed to such a point that nerve endings can be melded together, and transplant rejection can be handled with drugs - according to New Scientist -
"This month he published a summary of the technique he believes will allow doctors to transplant a head onto a new body (Surgical Neurology International, doi.org/2c7). It involves cooling the recipient's head and the donor body to extend the time their cells can survive without oxygen. The tissue around the neck is dissected and the major blood vessels are linked using tiny tubes, before the spinal cords of each person are cut. Cleanly severing the cords is key, says Canavero."
"The recipient's head is then moved onto the donor body and the two ends of the spinal cord – which resemble two densely packed bundles of spaghetti – are fused together. To achieve this, Canavero intends to flush the area with a chemical called polyethylene glycol, and follow up with several hours of injections of the same stuff. Just like hot water makes dry spaghetti stick together, polyethylene glycol encourages the fat in cell membranes to mesh."
"Next, the muscles and blood supply would be sutured and the recipient kept in a coma for three or four weeks to prevent movement. Implanted electrodes would provide regular electrical stimulation to the spinal cord, because research suggests this can strengthen new nerve connections."
"When the recipient wakes up, Canavero predicts they would be able to move and feel their face and would speak with the same voice. He says that physiotherapy would enable the person to walk within a year. Several people have already volunteered to get a new body, he says."
OK, so first off, what we want to know is, yes several people may have volunteered to get a new body, but who the hell wants to be the body in question?! Presumably an easy going organ donor has to agree to hand over their complete body - minus head - and then helpfully die of natural causes whilst fit and young. Or perhaps, alternatively, Canavero is scouring the streets for healthy looking tramps to decapitate so he can Frankenstein some rich old guys head onto their still twitching corpse. (* there's no actual evidence that that's happening, but y'know. I've seen films and stuff. I know what goes on.)
Unsurprisingly a fair amount of Canavero's contemporaries are sceptical - ""I don't believe it will ever work, there are too many problems with the procedure," says Harry Goldsmith, a clinical professor of neurological surgery at the University of California. "Trying to keep someone healthy in a coma for four weeks – it's not going to happen."
Our favourite quote comes from bioethics professor Patricia Scripko, who is seems to be living in a parallel universe where people are decent, the sun always shines, and wealthy, benevolent folk enjoy the aging process with a serene, zen like calm-
"If a head transplant were ever to take place," Scripko mused "it would be very rare. It's not going to happen because someone says 'I'm getting older, I'm arthritic, maybe I should get a body that works better and looks better'." Because of course, there are definitely absoultely no aging, intrinsically evil shit sacks out there that would dream of insane surgical procedures to extend their life amirite?