A head transplant was reportedly performed on a monkey by a team of researchers at China’s Harbin Medical University. Although the animal was paralyzed, and was euthanized after 20 hours, the surgery was reportedly a success — as the monkey did not suffer “any neurological injury” during the experiment.
The claims were outlined by controversial Italian surgeon, Dr. Sergio Canavero, during a January 19 interview with New Scientist.
Last year, Canavero made headlines when he announced his plans to perform a human head transplant in 2017. As reported by ABC News, the announcement was met with strong skepticism. However, the surgeon insists the procedure is indeed possible.
— Daily Mirror (@DailyMirror) January 20, 2016
Sergio points to a 1970 experiment, which was performed by Dr. Robert White at Cleveland, Ohio’s, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. The experiment, which remains controversial, involved transplanting “the head of a rhesus monkey to the body of another.”
Dr. Sergio Canavero called the 1970 monkey head transplant a success — as the animal “was, by all measures, normal, having suffered no complications.” According to reports, the monkey could hear, see, smell, and taste. However, as the donor and recipient’s spinal cords were not joined, the animal was paralyzed.
Although it was capable of breathing without assistance, the monkey died eight days later — as the body eventually rejected the head.
In a 2013 article, Canavero suggests “fusogens” will allow the donor and recipient’s spinal cords to be successfully fused — whether the head transplant is performed on monkeys or humans.
“… the surgeons will cut the cooled spinal cords with an ultra-sharp blade… It is this ‘clean cut’ the key to spinal cord fusion, in that it allows proximally severed axons to be ‘fused’ with their distal counterparts. This fusion exploits so-called fusogens/sealants.”
During his interview with New Scientist, Dr. Sergio Canavero said C-Yoon Kim, with Korea’s Konkuk University School of Medicine, confirmed it was possible to sever a mouse’s spinal cord, and fuse it back together — with few complications.
Dr. Xiaoping Ren, who reportedly performed the successful head transplant on a monkey at Harbin Medical University, claims he has performed the same procedure on “more than 1,000” mice.
International Business Times reports Ren has successfully transplanted the heads of numerous mice onto the bodies of others, and has even noted that some of the mice were able to “open [their] eyes and move around.” However, none of the mice lived longer than 24 hours.
Sergio provides a detailed explanation as to how the spinal cord fusion could work in humans and monkeys. However, he does not explain how to prevent the body’s rejection of the transplant.
Canavery said “the work is described in seven papers set to be published in the journals Surgery and CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics over the next few months,” but he did not provide any specific details about the papers.
— Daily Mail Online (@MailOnline) January 20, 2016
Harvard Medical School’s Centre for Bioethics neurologist, Thomas Cochrane, said he is skeptical about Sergio Canavery’s claims, as it is unusual to discuss findings prior to publication.
“It’s frowned upon for good reason… It generates excitement before excitement is warranted. It distracts people from actual work that everyone can agree has a valid foundation. As far as I can tell, that operation has mostly been about publicity rather than the production of good science.”
Despite the naysayers, Dr. Canavery said Dr. Xiaoping Ren’s work with mice and the monkey head transplant prove a human head transplant will be possible by 2017. Although he still needs funding for the controversial experiment, Sergio already has a volunteer: a Russian man named Valery Spriridonov.
[Image via S_L/Shutterstock]