– The Conversation (@ConversationUK) August 17, 2015
Thanks to Frankenstein’s monster, Robocop, and the cyborg commandos of Ghost in the Shell, extreme portrayals of transplant surgery have captured our imagination over the years. The story of a patient’s hand grafted on to a leg in China after an industrial accident to preserve it before being restored to his arm is just the latest success story to gain worldwide attention.
So when Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero first announced his intention to perform the first ever human “head transplant” by December 2017 – part of his “head anastomosis venture” or HEAVEN project – science fiction seemed to inch a little closer to science fact. Canavero’s idea involves a 36-hour surgery during which the head of a patient suffering from a debilitating disease would be fused at the spinal cord to a brain dead donor with an otherwise healthy body. This would be the biggest medical development of the 21st Century if Sergio Canavero is able to pull up this ambitious attempt. A leading neurosurgeon like him plays a leading role in the medical care that will be available to us all in the future. However, even today a neurosurgeon is capable of performing life-saving/changing procedures.
Despite scientists and surgeons voicing some serious doubts that such a massive undertaking would be successful, Canavero is adamant that the technology now exists – by employing his novel GEMINI protocol, he argues, the likelihood of success is around 90%.
But just how well do his claims stand to scientific scrutiny? Below are just three of the many important issues that haven’t been convincingly addressed.