Professor Sergio Canavero claims the face of medicine will forever be changed, thanks to a human head transplant that can make you immortal. He told the medical community the first operation had been completed in China by Dr. Ren Xiaoping. But it turned out that everything wasn’t exactly as it seemed.
In November 2017 Canavero made a stunning declaration. He said that human head transplants were not only a possibility but a reality. Canavero declared the operation had been performed on a human corpse – and had been a triumph.
“We have entered an age where we will take our destiny back in our hands,” Canavero said at a press conference in Vienna. “It will change everything. It will change you at every level. The first human head transplant, in the human mode, has been realized.”
Canavero also claimed that after the operation on a corpse, a transplant on a living person would be happening “imminently.” He added, “The surgery lasted 18 hours. The paper will be released in a few days. Everyone said it was impossible, but the surgery was successful.”
Canavero said that during the procedure, the spinal cord as well as blood vessels and nerves had all been reconnected. And he also revealed his intentions for the future, with some help from Dr. Ren. Canavero explained that they were getting ready for a human head transplant on a live patient.
The plan is to remove the head of a patient and attach it to the body of a donor, reconnecting the spine and reawakening the nerves with magnetic or electrical stimulation. Canavero alleged that the person would spend several weeks recuperating in a coma and upon awakening would have regained the ability to walk. Apparently, several people in China put themselves forward to be the first live patient.
Canavero first announced his aim to complete a human head transplant in 2015. And he received an offer from a willing prospective patient. Valery Spiridonov, a Russian computer scientist with extreme physical disabilities, agreed to be operated on. However, he has apparently since come to terms with the fact that this won’t happen for him.
Supposedly, the procedure could be performed on people who suffer from quadriplegia or diseases that severely damage the muscles. Canavero’s idea is that when someone’s body fails them, their head can be transplanted onto another body. In that sense, it could make you immortal.
The Italian professor, 54, has been leading a team that experimented on animals in preparation for the procedure. This includes severing a monkey head, which apparently survived but did not become conscious after the operation. Canavero and Ren also ran an experiment in which the heads of smaller mice were attached to larger rats with disconnected spinal cords.
The two-headed rats were able to feel pain and blink but apparently only lived for approximately 36 hours after the transplants. However, those carrying out the experiment believe a longer survival rate could have happened since the donor’s brain tissue was not damaged. Nevertheless, the experiment raised eyebrows.
Despite his contentious methods, Canavero found someone on his side in 57-year-old Dr. Ren, who agreed to perform the surgery on a human after experimenting on thousands of mice. Canavero compared their first meeting to “like falling in love.” He added, “Two minds from such a distance that wanted to do the same thing. It was incredible.”
But after announcing the success of the surgery on a corpse and that the operation on a live patient would take place in the near future, the truth came to light. It turned out that Canavero wasn’t being entirely accurate. Dr. Ren revealed what had actually happened, days after the professor’s announcement.
Dr. Ren explained that there hadn’t been an operation on a corpse at all. In fact, what had occurred was just the design of a “pre-clinical operational method” for a human head transplant. And he wasn’t sure when the surgery could take place at all.
“Our team recently had a significant scientific breakthrough: to complete the first surgical model for head transplant,” Dr. Ren revealed in a press conference at Harbin Medical University. But he added that “there is a long way to go” before this could happen with a human. Ren then showed journalists a clip of an experiment his team executed on a dog.
They cut the spine of a dog, which seemed to have some mobility two weeks afterward – and Dr. Ren claimed it could run two months later. Canavero took this as proof that it’s possible to fuse a spinal cord that has been severed. It was stated that the results were “very good” one year on.
However, Dr. Ren confessed that the animal could not behave like a typical dog afterward. And he refused to discuss the specifics of the procedure when quizzed by a journalist, because the question was “too professional.” Ren added, “I’m not a chemist or pharmacist; I’m a surgeon.”
Members of the medical world have criticized Canavero for his controversial work. He has even found himself likened to the fictional monster creator Doctor Frankenstein. “’I would not wish this on anyone,” president elect of the American Association for Neurological Surgeons Dr. Hunt Batjer told CNN. “I would not allow anyone to do it to me as there are a lot of things worse than death.”
Another medical expert has pointed out that the science is not established and to experiment with live people is therefore inhumane and ethically corrupt. University of Oxford neuroscience professor Dr. Jan Schnupp said, “As a neuroscientist, I would really quite like the general public to be reassured that neither I nor any of my colleagues think that beheading people for extremely long shot experiments is acceptable. It is not.”
There are approximately 12,500 spinal cord injuries each year in the United States, and scientists have been experimenting on them for years. L.W. Freeman found that six out of 66 animals whose spines were severed during his research in the 1960s managed to get “good” motor function back. But he used a surgical cut rather than a typical tear, and his work wouldn’t necessarily apply to a human.
Therefore, there is no genuine scientific proof that Canavero’s idea could work. “Unless Canavero or Ren provide real evidence that they can perform a head, or more appropriately, a whole body transplant on a large animal that recovers sufficient function to improve quality of life, this entire project is morally wrong,” University Hospital of South Manchester Transplant Center’s principal research scientist Dr. James Fildes said. However, these facts haven’t put off Canavero, who is determined to make his dream a reality. “For too long nature has dictated her rules to us,” he said at the press conference.