An Italian neuroscientist believes he’s figured out how to do a full human head transplant. Or body transplant, depending on your perspective. In a recent paper, Dr. Sergio Canavero of the University of Turin explains how the procedure would work, describing how a "clean cut" with an "ultra-sharp blade" could leave the two severed spinal cords in the condition to be re-attached. "It is my contention that the technology only now exists for such linkage," writes the researcher.
Fusing the two spinal cords together with an inorganic polymer "glue"
Canavero is basing his procedure on Dr. Robert White’s shocking 1970 transplant of the head of one rhesus monkey onto the body of another, pictured below. In his paper, published in the open access journal Surgical Neurology International, Canavero outlines a plan to cool the subjects’ head and spine to 18ºC, use "clean cuts" to sever the two spinal cords, then drain the blood from the transplanted head before fusing the two spinal cords together with an inorganic polymer "glue." He cites supporting research in dogs and guinea pigs showing that the reattachment ought to be possible.
As far as making sure all of the nerve fibers are wired up the right way, Canavero acknowledges the difficulty but points out that even a few correct connections would be sufficient for "some voluntary control of locomotion." Electrical stimulation from a spinal cord stimulating apparatus (SCS) would also promote plasticity in the nerve cells — i.e., help the head figure out how to control its new body.
A "feasible enterprise"
It all sounds incredibly far-fetched, but Canavero thinks it’s a "feasible enterprise," and given the immense complexity of surgical procedures like full face transplants, perhaps it’s only a matter of time before we see something like this in the real world. There would obviously be enormous ethical implications involved in a full-body transplant, but Canavero insists that the procedure is a worthwhile subject for further research. "Horrible conditions without a hint of hope of improvement cannot be relegated to the dark corner of medicine," he writes.