Italian Neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero has been labeled a mad scientist for his outrageous plans to conduct the world’s first human head transplantation later this year.
Mad scientist Canavero is planning on conducting the world’s first head transplant in China, later this year. Initially, his plan as to perform the surgery on 31-year-old Valery Spiridonov, a man with Werdnig-Hoffmann disease. Canavero has since sent word to Spiridonov that he has been declined for the surgery. Instead, Canavero has selected a Chinese national instead. Reading between the lines, it is clear that there is no one in the western world who approves of his insane and scientifically unproven plans.
Fellow neurosurgeons have accused Canavero of being a scam artist, and the medical world’s version of Donald Trump. These experts state clearly, breaking down the scientific reasoning why Canavero’s venture into human head transplantation impossible. Simply stated, there is not a single shred of scientific evidence that this surgery will be successful. In fact, the scientific evidence suggests that this ambitious operation is doomed to failure.
Nevertheless, Canavero is on a fundraising mission and has become a darling of the media. A media that is more than happy to whip up the hype and frenzy associated with such an unbelievable claim. Canavero has even gone so far as giving a TED talk about his plans, wowing an audience with scientific terminology and explanations that any intelligent scientist can see through as a complete farce. So far, Canavero has not produced a single peer-reviewed paper to support the validity of his plans.
Canavero utilizes some pretty big words to wow the uneducated masses about his unscientific plans. During his TED talk, he had the audacity to quote Gandhi: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” But no one is laughing; they are horrified that mad scientist Canavero is willing to murder a desperately ill and hopeful person for the sake of fame and an empty pipe dream.
Fancy names like GEMINI protocol and HEAVEN describe Canavero’s convoluted ideas about how he imagines he will succeed. He claims that every other neuroscientist doesn’t understand the spinal cord as expertly he does. Such a wild claim about himself should surely raise alarm bells.
Prestigious neurosurgeons spend countless hours researching ways to enable paraplegics and quadriplegics to gain use of their limbs again, and so far there has been extremely little in the way of success.
In fact, we can break down and dismantle his plans fairly easily:
Claim 1: The dismembered head will await transplantation at a temperature between 10-15 degrees.
Every brain responds uniquely to such temperatures, and obviously, the response is only understood retrospectively. The biggest risk is hypothermia. Essentially, if he were to experiment with ten head transplants, maybe only 3 or 4 would survive the cooling process. Experimenting with just one person is simply too great a gamble, even at this stage.
Claim 2: The use of an incredibly sharp knife and color coding will ensure that the reattachment of the spinal cord is precise. Polyethylene Glycol (PEG) will make sure that the nerves miraculously repair themselves.
In reality, the spinal cord nerves are incapable of repairing themselves after damage. If any successful technique or medication had been developed, millions of paralyzed people worldwide would be cured by now. Canavero uses the example of animals that have been experimented upon similarly in the past. However, it is impossible to extrapolate the results of animal testing onto humans. This is why legitimate science relies on clinical trials and peer-reviewing.
The rodent experiments that Canavero cites are moot. The circuitry associated with a rodent’s locomotive abilities are located below the place spinal injuries take place in these animals. Enabling them to regain use of their limbs is common. Another scientist that Canavero quotes is the notorious Dr. Robert White who was also deemed a Frankenstein in his day for his cruel experiments on primates.
White transplanted the heads of primates. However, these animals regained no motor abilities and died very quickly. Canavero claims that scientific advances will enable the recipients of human head transplants to stay alive. But the scientific community begs to differ, as the facts do not support his claim.
Finally, Canavero’s claim that the substance PEG will miraculously join the head to the donor body is also flawed. Indeed, PEG has shown promise in pre-clinical trials. However, it has not been utilized successfully to reattach severed spinal cord nerves. Even in pre-clinical trials, the limited success was witnessed in unassociated things like stem cell therapy and gene therapy.