Italian neurosurgeon Dr Sergio Canavero plans to carry out the world’s first human head transplant next year on Russian man Valery Spiridonov. While the world watches on with curiosity and horror, him and his team are keen to prove they have the scientific know-how to pull off this "Frankenstein-esque" experiment.
In a series of three papers, recently published in Surgical Neurology International, Dr Canavero and his team outline how their latest developments have allowed them to reconnect the spinal cords of 16 mice and a dog. They also revealed plans to test their ideas out through “electrical induction” on fresh human cadavers.
One of the studies introduces itself by saying: “Today, it is most gratifying to announce a series of proof-of-principle papers that will dispel that hysteria once and for all.”
Much of the research demonstrates the use of GEMINI spinal cord fusion protocol and polyethylene glycol (PEG). GEMINI essentially allows less damage to occur during the spinal cord severance, while PEG is a chemical that can refuse neuronal cell membranes. It’s then reinforced using graphene nanoribbons.
The paper, led by Canavaro's colleague C-Yoon Kim, describes how they severed 90 percent of a dog's spinal cord using the refined GEMINI process. After using their new PEG techniques, the dog was reportedly back to almost full motor function within 2 weeks of recovery.
The paper went on to say: “Despite these exciting animal experiments, the proof of the pudding rests in human studies. The only ethical – and expeditious – way is to test GEMINI in brain dead organ donors before explantation during a 6-hour window during which the cord is severed, PEG applied, and motor conduction assessed distally.”
A video of the dog walking around after its surgery was also reportedly released, although it has not been made publicly available.
In another paper, called “HEAVEN: The Frankenstein effect,” they explain how human cadaver experiments are next up on the to-do list. According to a 19th-century anecdote they cite, a man applied electrical stimulation to three criminals in Italy who were decapitated. The story goes that the man could produce muscular contractions in the dead criminals for up to three hours after death, suggesting that some neural pathways can “live on” after death.
Much of the scientific community are still skeptical. New Scientist asked 10 experts to comment on the research, with most not wishing to publicly comment on it. The others were unanimously dubious about the legitimacy of the results and concerned about the researcher’s hastiness.
“This work would put them about three or four years from repairing a spinal cord in humans,” medical ethicist Arthur Caplan at New York University told New Scientist. “It would put them maybe seven or eight from trying anything like a head transplant.”