Originally published September 3 2015
Frankendoctors now attempting to transplant human heads onto another person's body; but what happens to the original head?
by David Gutierrez, staff writer
(NaturalNews) Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero has announced that he plans to perform a human head transplant by the end of 2017. He has described a 36-hour surgery in which the head of a brain-dead body donor would be removed and replaced with the still-functioning head of a person with a debilitating disease.
The technology to perform this procedure already exists, Canavero says, and he estimates that the chances of success are around 90 percent. However, many surgeons and scientists have raised serious questions about Canavero's arguments. In a recent editorial in The Independent, molecular medicine PhD candidate Darren O'Hailin of Freiburg University examines the major scientific problems unaddressed by Canavero's ambitious plan.
Gluing the spine back together?Canavero's plan begins by cooling the spinal cord of the donor body and the head of the patient to a temperature below 20°C; this would keep both nervous systems alive for less than an hour. In this time, the surgical teams would have to remove both heads, transfer the patient's head and reconnect it to the donor body's spine and blood vessels. Canavero plans to fuse the two spines with a glue-like substance called polyethylene glycol (PEG). The blood vessels, muscles and connective tissues of the necks would then be connected using conventional stitching techniques. The patient would then be placed into a medically-induced coma for three to four weeks to recover.
The proposal rests upon the fact that while spinal tissue is technically able to reconnect, this nearly never occurs naturally because injuries that sever the spinal column nearly always crush too many of the delicate nerve connections to allow healing. Canavero insists that with a sharp enough surgical knife, the PEG glue and electrical stimulation would stimulate the two separate spinal columns to fuse.
No evidence procedure could workO'Hailin identifies several major flaws with Canavero's proposal. First, he notes that animal experiments have never successfully fused separate spines. It has also never been demonstrated that a severed head can be kept alive for the hour demanded by Canavero's plan.
There are several theoretical problems with the plan as well. Although nervous tissue can theoretically heal itself, spinal injuries almost immediately result in the formation of structures called glial scars. These form when immune cells flood the area of a spinal injury in order to repair holes in neurons and prevent further injury. The cells also flood the area with chemicals to prevent nerves from refusing. Canavero's plan fails to even mention this problem.
Researchers have also questioned whether PEG plus electrical stimulation would actually result in a single, functioning spine. Although some animal studies have shown that the spines of animals can be re-fused well enough to restore some muscle movement, it is unclear whether sensation has been restored as well. Additionally, no experiments have been performed with spines severed at the neck.
"In Canavero's procedure, the spine would be cut at the cervical region where axons carry signals involved in functions that keep the body alive," O'Hailin wrote. "Unsuccessful fusion of these axons would leave a patient paralyzed and breathing with a machine."
Canavero points to one Chinese study that he claims is similar to his proposed surgery. In that study, the brain stems of the donor bodies, which control vital functions such as breathing, were left intact. Even in this case, only 18 of the 80 mice survived, and only as "heads ... essentially stitched onto a paralyzed incubator," O'Hailin said.
Other major obstacles include the unanswered question of whether a brain can rewire itself to control a completely new body and the possibility of the two bodies rejecting each other and going to war. Even in hand transplants, which are much less complex, it is very common for the immune system to attack the new hand.
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