Talk of the world’s first head transplant has been plaguing the nightmares of concerned surgeons ever since media-savvy Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero first outlined his plans in 2013. Although word has gone quiet on the Frankensteinian surgery for some time, CNBC reports that Canavero and Chinese surgeon Xiaoping Ren are busy planning the next steps in their controversial and sensational feat.
A review of the plan by independent scientists has been published in Current Translational Reports this month, posing the big question: “Are We Ready For A Human Head Transplant?” Their answer is no.
They argue that the surgery has to first overcome some mammoth scientific obstacles before it becomes a reality, let alone the minefield of ethical and moral dilemmas.
For one thing, the new report explains that the recipient of the new body could “decay into madness” from the unpredictable psychological stress. They also point out that other scientists have “even predicted that BHT [body-to-head transplantation] recipients would experience mind and body dissonance of such magnitude that insanity and death are possible.”
“Patients who survive BHT may feel lucky to be alive. The costs of survival, however, may be high,” they add.
"How the mind will adjust to a new body is unknown. Human cognition neither originates nor is exclusively located in the brain, and how the sympathetic nervous system will function after BHT is similarly unknown."
"The consequences could be catastrophic."
On top of that, there are huge surgical and immunological hurdles to jump. Rejection is one of the central problems with transplantations of any kind. With a full body-to-head transplant, the body will likely face a colossal immune response, requiring a huge amount of immunosuppressive treatment.
It’s even doubted whether the operation is possible as successful spinal cord reconnection in humans has yet to be proven, although Canavero has reconnected the spinal cords of 16 mice and a dog with varying success.
In 2017, Canavero performed a test-run of the surgery on two cadavers alongside Ren. They had initially announced that the surgery would be performed in December 2017 on a young Russian volunteer with a rare genetic disorder called Werdnig-Hoffman muscle wasting disease. This, evidently, didn’t happen.
Nevertheless, Canavero is not one to roll over. His detractors have branded him as “fake news”, as "crazy as a bat”, and “out of his mind”. For the most part, he appears to revel in the skepticism from the medical establishment.
For now, Canavero remains as confident as ever that the operation will go ahead and, most importantly, will be a success.