A surgeon aiming to do the first human head transplant says ‘Frankenstein’ predicted a crucial part of the surgery – South China Morning Post

Posted: July 10, 2017 at 2:45 am

By Erin Brodwin

To Sergio Canavero, Frankenstein is scientific inspiration.

The Italian neurosurgeon told Business Insider that Mary Shelleys classic novel convinced him that he could complete the worlds first full-body transplant. Canavero claims hell complete the procedure on a human next fall in China.

Not only did the book reveal a missing piece in his plan to swap the heads of two humans, Canavero said, it also provided the justification for the dangerous procedure.

Just as the fictional Doctor Victor Frankenstein discovered how to give life to inanimate matter, Canavero aims to cheat death. The surgeon envisions a future in which healthy people could opt for full-body transplants as a way to live longer, eventually even putting their heads on clone bodies.

Im into life extension, he told Business Insider on a recent Skype call. Life extension and breaching the wall between life and death.

In fact, Canavero said that in doing the procedure he wants to create a near death experience actually a full death experience and see what comes next.

As Canavero explained it, the full-body transplant will involve going into the spinal cord of someone with a spinal injury and cutting out the injured segments of the cord. The donors cord would be cut to perfectly replace the missing portion in the injured person, and then the two healthy stumps would be fused together. Canavero plans to attach the cords using polyethylene glycol (PEG), a common laboratory tool used to encourage cells to fuse. Canavero simply refers to it as glue.

He said he will soon complete this transplant procedure with two humans a Chinese national who remains anonymous and a brain-dead organ donor. The head of the former will be attached to the body of the latter.

The full procedure is called HEAVEN, short for head anastomosis venture.

Canavero said that hed been studying the concept of this full-body transplant for more than a decade before he picked up Shelleys book. After reading it, he said he realised his planned procedure lacked a critical component: electricity.

The surgeon has not elaborated on the role electricity will play in the operation, however James FitzGerald, a consulting neurosurgeon at the University of Oxford, told Business Insider that PEG is can be paired with large pulses of electricity to coax fibers into merging. Still, FitzGerald maintains that Canaveros plans to use it to fuse two spinal cords are unrealistic.

Its just too much of a jump, FitzGerald said.

Canavero doesnt think so.

Electricity has the power to speed up regrowth, he said. Bing bang bong you have the solution to spinal cord fusion.

Canavero isnt pursuing this unprecedented medical feat to cure people with life-threatening injuries, despite the fact that spinal cord injuries affect 12,000 Americans every year. Instead, he wants the operation to serve as a way to explore his own ideas about life, death, and human consciousness (though he says it would be a waste not to help injured patients as well).

Im not religious but I dont believe consciousness can be created in the brain. The brain is a filter, he said, adding that the word anastomosis combines the Greek roots ana, meaning to place upon, and stoma, or mouth.

Like a kiss, he said.

Canaveros evidence that the procedure will work rests on a handful of animal experiments that many experts say were nowhere near satisfactory.

In the first of these experiments, Canavero claimed to have severed then reconnected the spinal cord of a dog. Less than a year later, he published a paper detailing how he created a series of two-headed rodents. In June 2017, the surgeon said he severed the spinal cords of a group of mice and then reattached them using polyethylene glycol.

Canavero says these trials are proof that he and his team figured out whats often considered the holy grail of spinal cord research: fusion.

We have so much data that confirms this in mice, rats, and soon you will see the dogs, he said.

However, many experts dont buy his claims, citing a lack of evidence. And its important to keep in mind that the fate of the Chinese man who will be involved in the first procedure hangs in the balance.

I simply dont think the reports of joining spinal cords together are credible, James FitzGerald, a consulting neurosurgeon at the University of Oxford, told Business Insider.

Robert Brownstone, a professor of neurosurgery and the Brain Research Trust Chair of Neurosurgery at the University College London, agreed.

Many great scientific ideas are born out of crazy ideas that turned out to be right so we cant completely turn a blind eye to this, but there has to be some mechanistic aspect to it, which Im not seeing, Brownstone said.

Others, including University of Cambridge neurosurgery professor John Pickard, suggested the journal in which Canaveros studies were published was also a red flag.

I just dont think hes done the science, Pickard said.


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A surgeon aiming to do the first human head transplant says 'Frankenstein' predicted a crucial part of the surgery - South China Morning Post

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