Surgeon claims to have carried out a HEAD transplant on a live monkey: Controversial trial may lead to same procedure in humans
- Controversial surgeon Sergio Canavero claims procedure was a success
- He said experts reconnected the blood supply from the head to the body
- This was allegedly completed without the animal suffering brain damage
- Canavero has called for businessmen such as Mark Zuckerberg to bankroll the first human head transplant
Eccentric Italian surgeon Sergio Canavero claims researchers in China have successfully carried out a head transplant on a monkey.
The ambitious scientist caused a media storm last year when he revealed his plans to attempt a human head transplant, saying it could be a cure for complete paralysis in a matter of years.
Now, after working with the team in China and other researchers in South Korea, he suggests his plan is a step closer, thanks to the experiments on monkeys, mice and human cadavers.
The experiments, which some will find upsetting, are to be published in future issues of scientific journals Surgery and CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics, the latter of which is rumoured to be guest-edited by one of Canavero’s collaborators.
While New Scientist has not seen the seven papers, it said it has seen images and videos of the grisly procedures described by Canavero.
One image seemingly shows a monkey with its head sewn on, reminiscent of the stitches in Frankenstein films.
Canavero claims Xiaoping Ren at Harbin Medical University, China has successfully carried out a monkey head transplant, connecting the blood supply between the head and new body, but critically, not the spinal cord.
He said the gruesome experiment shows that if the head is cooled to -15°C a monkey can survive the procedure without suffering brain damage.
MailOnline has contacted the researchers for more information and to corroborate Canavero’s claims.
‘The monkey fully survived the procedure without any neurological injury of whatever kind,’ he said.
However, without a connected spinal cord, the animal would have been paralysed at least from the neck down and was only kept alive for 20 hours after the operation, apparently, for undefined ethical reasons.
It is not known whether the animal could feel pain in parts of its body after the procedure.
Ren said he conducted experiments on human cadavers in preparation for the surgery and tested ideas about how to prevent brain injury.
SPINE ‘GLUED’ BACK TOGETHER
It is already 40 years since the first monkey head transplant and since then an operation on a mouse has been carried out in China.
But Dr Canavero claims all the necessary techniques already exist to carry out a full human head transplant.
He believes he just needs to put the relevant techniques together to carry out the first successful operation.
The new body would come from a normal transplant donor, who is declared brain dead.
Both the donor and the patient would have their head severed from their spinal cord at the same time, using an ultra-sharp blade to give a clean cut.
The patient’s head would then be moved on to the donor’s body and attached using a ‘glue’ called polyethylene glycol to fuse the two ends of the spinal cord together.
The muscles and blood supply would be stitched up, before the patient is put into a coma for four weeks to stop them moving while the head and body heal together.
During that time the patient would be given small electric shocks to stimulate their spinal cord and strengthen the connections between their head and new body.
As the patient is brought out of their medically-induced coma, it is hoped they would be able to move, feel their face, and even speak with the same voice.
Powerful immunosuppressant drugs would be prescribed to stop the new body from being rejected.
In addition, the patient would require intensive psychological support.
He is said to have successfully carried out a head transplant on a mouse in 2013 and since then has repeated the 10-hour procedure more than 1,000 times.
In the video link conversation exclusively published by Russian news agency RIA Novosti, Canavero said: ‘The monkey survived perfectly without injury for 24… for 20 hours before being euthanised, because of course we didn’t want to keep the animal alive.’
Canavero added the Chinese have already conducted the first human head transplant, but refused to show photos as proof.
Another video shows a mouse sniffing and moving its legs after reportedly having recovered from having its spinal cords severed and re-fused.
Canavero said the procedure, carried out by C-Yoon Kim, at Konkuk University School of Medicine in South Korea, shows the spinal cord can re-fuse if it’s cut cleanly and a chemical that preserves cell membranes, called polyethylene glycol (PEG), is used.
However, as the video shows, the mouse is unable to move normally.
Despite medical hurdles and scepticism from scientists about the release of details ahead of the research being published, Canavero is seeking funds to perform a human head transplant procedure – and even plans on asking Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg for cash.
Last year he hit the headlines when he announced plans to operate on 31-year-old Valery Spriridonov, who has a genetic muscle-wasting disease.
RT reported Canavero said: ‘I’m asking today Russian billionaires and also foreign billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg, who is already sponsoring much of this life extension research, and this is certainly about extending life, to finance, to bankroll the first head transplant in Russia on Valery Spiridonov.’
Now Trinh Hong Son, director of the Vietnam-Germany Hospital in Hanoi, Vietnam has offered to host the proposed operation.
Doctor Canavero claims a successful outcome of the surgery is possible and Mr Spiridonov, who suffers from Werdnig-Hoffman disease, said: ‘If I manage to replace my body and if everything goes well, it will allow me to be free of the limitations I am experiencing.’
He admitted previously: ‘I am not rushing to go under the surgeon’s knife, I am not shouting – come and save me here and now.
‘Yes, I do have a disease which often leads to death, but my first role in this project is not that of a patient.
First of all, I am a scientist, I am an engineer, and I am keen to persuade people – medical professionals – that such operation is necessary.
‘I am not going crazy here and rushing to cut off my head, believe me.
‘The surgery will take place only when all believe that the success is 99 per cent possible.
‘In other words, the main task now is to get support for Canavero from the medical community, to let him go on with his methods and to improve them within these two coming years.’
The men hope to carry out the operation in 2017, if ‘all goes according to plan’.
Michael Sarr, editor of the journal Surgery, who is surgeon at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, said: ‘If the so-called head transplant works, this is going to open up a whole new science of spinal cord trauma reconstruction.’
He said that the journal doesn’t support head transplants per se, because of ethical issues.