So now we have the alleged monkey head transplant:
The work is described in seven papers set to be published in the journals Surgery and CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics over the next few months. New Scientist has not seen the papers and has not been able verify the latest claims. The issue of CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics will be guest-edited by one of Canavero’s collaborators.
The fact that Canavero has gone public with the latest results before the papers are published has raised eyebrows. “It’s science through public relations,” says Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at New York University School of Medicine. “When it gets published in a peer-reviewed journal I’ll be interested. I think the rest of it is BS.”
Thomas Cochrane, a neurologist at Harvard Medical School’s Centre for Bioethics, agrees that Canavero’s premature disclosure is unorthodox. “It’s frowned upon for good reason,” he says. “It generates excitement before excitement is warranted. It distracts people from actual work that everyone can agree has a valid foundation. As far as I can tell, that operation has mostly been about publicity rather than the production of good science.”
Some more about the supposed science of head transplants:
In 1954, Russian doctor Vladimir Demikhov performed a series of experimental operations creating two-headed dogs. He successfully grafted the head and forelegs of one dog onto the neck of another. Amazingly, both heads could see, hear, smell and swallow. The longest any one of his experimental animals lived was 29 days. By modern standards, such an experiment seems cruel and unnecessary; however, Demikhov was motivated by his sincere interest in saving human lives. He hoped to gather all he learned from the dog experiments and apply it to human transplants.
At the time, only bone, blood vessels and corneas had been successfully transplanted in humans. Transplants on larger organs like kidneys were attempted, but the organs were always rejected. Demikhov and his team had their sights set on creating a tissue bank with a storehouse of organs to be used any time someone was in need of a transplant.Fast-forward to 1970 in the United States where head transplant experiments were attempted with rhesus monkeys. Dr. Robert White in Cleveland was able to perform a head transplant where the monkey survived neurologically intact for 36 hours, although it could not move. After nine days, the head was rejected by the monkey’s immune system, and the animal died. The largest obstacle cited by the transplant team was the inability to connect the spinal cord.
Since then, experiments have continued in China with mice, and some progress has been made in the understanding of spinal cord connection. And while nothing has been tried yet with humans, an Italian surgeon and member of a think tank devoted to the advancement of brain stimulation named Sergio Canavero is convinced he has a method to transplant a human head that will work and is gearing up to try it out.
So when will we see the day when human heads can be transplanted? Or are we better off just keeping them in jars, or saving the brains instead? Or is this all just too creepy for words?