Neurosurgeon Canavero claims He has successfully transplanted head on a monkey

Those who remember the maverick neurosurgeon, Sergio Canavero from our earlier post, will remember that he has promised to perform the first ever human head transplant in December 2017. Well that may still be far off, for now, Dr.Canavero claims he has has successfully done the procedure on a monkey.

Dr.Canavero told the New Scientist that he and his team successfully tested the procedure in experiments on monkeys and human cadavers. He told the website that the success shows that his plan to transplant a human’s head onto a donor body is in place. He says that the procedure will be ready before the end of 2017 and could eventually become a way of treating complete paralysis.

“I would say we have plenty of data to go on,” Dr.Canavero told New Scientist. “It’s important that people stop thinking this is impossible. This is absolutely possible and we’re working towards it.”

According to Dr.Canavero, researchers led by Xiaoping Ren at Harbin Medical University, China, carried out a head transplant on a monkey. They connected up the blood supply between the head and the new body, but did not attempt to connect the spinal cord. Dr.Canavero says the experiment, which repeats the work of Robert White in the US in 1970, demonstrates that if the head is cooled to -15 °C, a monkey can survive the procedure without suffering brain injury.

“The monkey fully survived the procedure without any neurological injury of whatever kind,” says Canavero, adding that it was kept alive for only 20 hours after the procedure for ethical reasons. New Scientist was, however, unable to obtain further details on this experiment.

“We’ve done a pilot study testing some ideas about how to prevent injury,” says Ren, whose work is sponsored by the Chinese government. He and his team have also performed experiments on human cadavers in preparation for carrying out the surgery, he says.

His team also tested the same process on mice that are able to move their legs after having their spinal cords severed and then stuck back together.

Dr.Canavero believes head transplantation is the only treatment that will work for paralysed patients. “Gene therapy has failed. Stem cells, we’re still waiting. Even if they come now, for these patients there is no hope. Tetraplegia can only be cured with this. Long term, the body decays, organs decay. You have to give them a new body because even if you take care of the cord, you’re going nowhere.”

Dr.Canavero had stoked up quite a controversy in September, 2014 when he had announced his human head transplant programme. After Dr.Canavero announced his plans to cut off a man’s head and put it onto another body, he drew a lot of fascination and criticism for the same. There are many who believe that the operation would probably never happen. But today’s success with monkey shows that the maverick neurosurgeon may be right after all!

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