No, Head Transplants Are Definitely Not Going To Happen

An Italian surgeon is making headlines with the claim that he’s found a way to transplant human heads onto new bodies. But that’s complete nonsense.

Science Museum, London / Wellcome Images / Creative Commons / Via wellcomeimages.org

Earlier this month, Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero made waves when he announced he'd discovered the key to performing a totally crazy surgery: transplanting a whole head onto a new body.

Canavero said he'd devised a way to fuse a severed head, presumably from someone with a life-threatening illness, onto a body donated by a brain-dead patient. He claims to already have patients lined up to test the treatment, which he estimates will be feasible within two years, according to the cover story of this week's New Scientist.

In 1970, a neurological surgery professor at Case Western Medical School named Robert White successfully transplanted the head of a rhesus monkey onto the body of another one, whose head had been removed at exactly the same time. While the monkey lived and breathed for eight days, the spinal cord from the head and body were not fused, so it could not move. On the ninth day, the monkey died.

Philip Meyers, professor of neurological surgery at Columbia University, told BuzzFeed News via email that White would periodically appear on the evening news describing his new head transplant experiments. "The camera would show a quadriplegic monkey looking around the room, smacking its lips," Meyers said. "The medical ethicists would go wild! Quite the spectacle."

In 1999, White wrote that, "What has always been the stuff of science fiction — the Frankenstein legend, in which an entire human being is constructed by sewing various body parts together — will become a clinical reality early in the 21st century."

Now Canavero is claiming that thanks to new medical tools that can help fuse together the bundles of nerves in the spinal cord in the neck and body, we may have finally reached that point.

"There's no way he's going to hook up somebody's brain to someone's spinal cord and have them be functional," Dr. Chad Gordon, professor of plastic and reconstructive surgery and neurological surgery at Johns Hopkins University, told BuzzFeed News.

"On the conservative side, we're about 100 years away from being able to figure this out," Gordon said. "If he's saying two, and he's promising a living, breathing, talking, moving human being? He's lying."

Here are just some of the reasons why a head transplant will not be coming to a hospital near you in two years.


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