Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Doctor Planning World's First Head Transplant Says He Is Preparing For His 'Frankenstein' Surgery By Reanimating Human Corpses

A controversial neurosurgeon who wants to carry out the first human head transplant has outlined plans to conduct 'Frankenstein' experiments to reanimate human corpses to test his technique. Dr Sergio Canavero, director of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group, and his collaborators believe they may be able to conduct the first human head transplant next year. They have outlined plans to test whether it is possible to reconnect the spinal cord of a head to another body with tests that will stimulate the nervous system in fresh human corpses with electrical pulses. However, the Russian man who has volunteered to have the first transplant has also revealed that his girlfriend is opposed to him having the operation. The aim of the surgery is to first cut the spinal cord and then repair it before using electrical or magnetic stimulation to 'reanimate' the nerves and even movement in the corpse. In an article for the Surgical Neurology International, Dr Canavero and his colleague in South Korea and China drew parallels to the infamous story of Frankenstein, where electricity is used to reanimate the fictional monster. He pointed to experiments conducted in the 1800s using the corpses of criminals who had been hung as proof such tests could be successful.

Dr Canavero (pictured) said the first operation on a human would only be carried out once surgeons were sure there was a 90 per cent chance of success. They hope to test some of the techniques needed to reconnect the spinal cord using fresh human cadavers
 Dr Canavero and his colleagues said: 'A fresh cadaver might act as a proxy for a live subject as long as a window of opportunity is respected (a few hours). 'It also implies that the process of deathly disintegration is not an immediate process. We name this effect the "Frankenstein effect". It comes as Dr Canavero and his colleagues have announced the results of experiments to show they can reconnect the spinal cord after it was severed in a dog. A series of research papers published today detail how the animal was able to walk and wag its tail three weeks after being paralysed from the neck down. Dr Canavero claims the results prove the technique used, known as GEMINI spinal cord fusion, will also work in humans to fuse two ends of a spinal cord together. This could then be used to connect a transplanted head to a donor body, allowing a paralysed patient regain control of a body. Valery Spiridonov, a 30-year-old Russian computer programmer suffering from a form of spinal muscular atrophy called Werdnig-Hoffmann, has volunteered to undergo the surgery. However, the claims have been met with scepticism by many in the scientific community who warn the experiments in animals do not yet prove a head transplant will work in humans. It is unclear exactly how completely the dog's spinal cord was severed before it was treated and its injury is some way from having a total head transplant. Writing in the journal Surgical Neurology International, Dr Canavero said the results of the experiments should dispel the hysteria around full head transplants 'once and for all'. He said: 'While of course these results are in need of duplication, there can be no doubt that this new batch of data confirm that a spinal cord, once severed, can be refused with useful behavioral recovery. 'Despite these exciting animal experiments, the proof of the pudding rests in human studies.' He said that initial tests will be carried out using the bodies of brain dead organ donors where the spinal cord will be severed and treated to see if it can be repaired. He explained how techniques, such as electrically stimulating movements through the spinal cord or with magnets applied to the brain, known as transcranial magnetic stimulation, will be used to test the connections. If the spinal cord has reconnected, such stimulation should produce tiny electrical pulses in the nerves further beneath the point where the spinal cord was cut. Dr Canavero said: 'We believe this has a neuropathological basis.' He first announced his plans to conduct head – or body – transplant in 2013 and he in 2015 he believed the challenges involved were surmountable. Together with colleagues in South Korea, China and the US, he set up the head anastomosis venture, or HEAVEN, project to develop the techniques needed to carry out such an operation. Earlier this year, Dr Canavero claimed scientists in China had performed a head transplant on a monkey where they connected up the blood supply between the head and the new body.
         Valery Spiridonov suffers from a genetic disorder that has left him wheelchair bound. He told Good Morning Britain (pictured) that he hopes having a head transplant will allow him to regain his independence
They did not, however, reconnect the spinal cord and the animal was unable to regain movement.In a new set of papers published in the journal Surgical Neurology International and edited by Dr Canavero, researchers in South Korea and the US claim to have reconnected the spinal cords in mice and in a dog.Dr C-Yoon Kim, a neurosurgeon at Konkuk University in Seoul who has been collaborating with Dr Canavero, severed the spinal cords of 16 mice. They injected a chemical called polyethylene glycol (PEG) into the gap between the cut spinal cord in half of the mice. After four weeks, five of the eight mice who received PEG regained some ability to move but three of the mice died. Those who did not receive PEG also died. Similar tests using an enhanced version of PEG was given to five rats with severed spinal cords and the South Korean researchers showed electrical signals passed down it after treatment. However, four of the rats were killed in a flood at the team's laboratory and so they were not able to see if movement was restored. In a final experiment the South Korean team tested the PEG solution in a dog after it's spinal cord was almost completely severed. They claim 90 per cent of the cord had been severed. While the dog was initially paralysed, three days later the team report it was able to move its limbs. By three weeks it could walk and wag its tail. There was no control in the experiments. According to New Scientist, however, other scientists have raised serious concerns about the results. Dr Jerry Silver, a neuroscientist at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, told the magazine: 'These papers do not support moving forward in humans. 'They claim they cut the cervical cord 90 per cent but there's no evidence of that in the paper, just some crude pictures.' Others said it could still at least eight years before a human head transplant could realistically be carried out. Speaking on ITV's Good Morning Britain, however, Dr Canavero said his team intended to conduct experiments on dead bodies before attempting ahead transplant with Valery Spiridonov. He said the operation on a living patient would only go ahead when there was at least a 90 per cent chance of them surviving the procedure. He said: 'The first humans to receive this sort of head transplant will not be Valery, but we will just be performing the first on brain dead organ donors, so the first live head transplant will come about somewhere where we'll be able to transfer the head of a brain dead organ donor onto the body of a decapitated, brain dead organ donor. 'So only after extensive cadaveric rehearsals and this final proof of principle surgery on brain dead organ donors we will move on Valery. 'Actually the list of patients is so long that we can't actually begin to give you all the names including several patients from England.' However, his plans to 'reanimate' corpses will doubtless require ethical approval and may pose a barrier to the experiments.