- Getty Images / Jeff Mitchell
- An Italian neurosurgeon named Sergio Canavero claimed on Friday that he had completed the world’s first human head transplant between two corpses, but he cited no evidence.
- Canavero previously told Business Insider that “Frankenstein” inspired him.
- Many neurosurgeons around the world doubt Canavero’s claim, saying there are multiple red flags.
An Italian neurosurgeon named Sergio Canavero claimed on Friday that he had completed the world’s first human head transplant between two corpses – but he gave no evidence to back it up.
At a press conference in Vienna, Canavero said he had attached the head of one corpse to the body of another by fusing the spine, nerves, and blood vessels. He said he then stimulated the corpse’s nerves to see if the procedure worked.
“The first human transplant on human cadavers has been done,” Canavero said in a video of the conference that he posted to Facebook.
He said that the procedure lasted 18 hours and that doing it on a living person paralyzed from the neck down was “imminent.”
Canavero on Friday didn’t specify details such as whether the cadavers’ organs had been removed or whether they any supportive equipment was used to sustain them. He told reporters that a scientific paper with the details would be released in the “next few days.”
Canavero eventually plans to do a similar surgery on living people
In the past when Canavero has discussed his plans for these types of procedures, he has referred to the process as a head transplant or a “full-body transplant.” But he described his latest work differently.
“My primary goal was not a head transplant,” Canavero said on Friday. “My primary goal was a brain transplant.”
He explained to Business Insider in July that the procedure he eventually wants to complete – whatever its name – would involve cutting out injured spinal-cord segments in someone with a spinal injury and fusing the healthy ends with perfectly cut portions of a donor’s cord.
Canavero plans to attach the cords using polyethylene glycol, a laboratory tool commonly used to encourage cells to fuse. Canavero refers to it as “glue.”
- OOOM Agency
He said at the time that he would soon complete this transplant procedure with two humans – the head of an anonymous Chinese national attached to the body of a brain-dead organ donor.
“By October, you will know every single thing from China,” he told Business Insider at the time.
On Friday, he said the procedure between the corpses proved it was a success, and that he and his team would next try it on two brain-dead organ donors before eventually attempting a similar surgery on someone paralyzed from the neck down.
“We have a cure for spinal-cord injury,” Canavero said.
But he added that his real goal was not curing the injury, but extending life.
“I’m into life extension,” he told Business Insider in July. “Life extension and breaching the wall between life and death.”
Canavero has cited ‘Frankenstein’ as his scientific inspiration
Just as the fictional doctor Victor Frankenstein discovered how to give life to inanimate matter, Canavero aims to cheat death.
The surgeon envisions a future in which healthy people can opt for full-body transplants to live longer, eventually even putting their heads on clone bodies.
“One day it will be clones,” he said. “But not yet.”
Canavero also says he hopes the procedure will “create a near-death experience – actually a full death experience – and see what comes next.”
To do this, he says, he wants to use electricity – a tip he picked up from “Frankenstein” – to aid spinal-cord fusion.
“Electricity has the power to speed up regrowth,” Canavero said. “Bing bang bong, you have the solution.”
The surgeon has not elaborated on electricity’s role in the operation.
Short pulses of electricity are frequently used in a laboratory setting to help coax fibers into merging, but the idea that the same process could apply to a head transplant is “just too much of a jump,” James FitzGerald, a consulting neurosurgeon at the University of Oxford, told Business Insider in July.
‘I simply don’t think the reports … are credible’
- CNS Neuroscience and Therapeutics
Any evidence that a full-body transplant could succeed rests on a handful of animal experiments that many experts say are nowhere near satisfactory.
In the first of these experiments, Canavero claimed to have severed then reconnected the spinal cord of a dog. Less than a year later, he published a paper detailing how he created a series of two-headed rodents.
In June, the surgeon said he’d severed the spinal cords of a group of mice and then reattached them using polyethylene glycol.
Canavero said these trials were proof that he and his team had figured out what’s often considered the holy grail of spinal-cord research: fusion.
“We have so much data that confirms this in mice, rats, and soon you will see the dogs,” he said in July.
However, many experts have highlighted multiple red flags in Canavero’s claims.
“I simply don’t think the reports of joining spinal cords together are credible,” FitzGerald said.
John Pickard, a University of Cambridge neurosurgery professor, told Business Insider that the journal Canavero chose to publish his rodent results in also had a dubious reputation.
“I just don’t think he’s done the science,” Pickard said.