Frankenstein Head Transplant

Is Mary Shelley’s nightmare vision about to become real?

frankenstein_head_transplant1A business magazine and a few others have reported a story about an upcoming attempt at the first human head transplant. An Italian neurosurgeon, Sergio Canavero, intends sometime in 2017 to attempt to sew the head of a living patient onto the body of a brain dead patient. The procedure is to be in China.

The Italian doctor explained his procedure in detail. The operation will entail cutting into the spinal cord injury and cutting away the segments of the damaged cord of the body donor, then replacing the missing portions with a spinal cord and head from a patient, then fusing the two portions together. The fusion would be accomplished using polyethylene glycol (PEG), essentially a bio glue. Then, electricity would be applied to the fused connection to encourage the cells to stimulate the fibers to merge, to complete the world’s first “full-body” transplant.

The doctor claims he had the idea of spinal fusion for a decade before reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein novel and got the light bulb idea of adding electricity to the procedure.

“Electricity has the power to speed up regrowth,” the doctor has said. “Bing bang bong you have the solution to spinal cord fusion”. So, like all fields of human endeavor, the next leap comes in the spark of inspiration, if only someone had thought of putting bolts in a patient’s neck and applying some lighting, you’d have the solution to reanimating dead tissue!

According to the Business Insider story, Dr. Canavero is calling his procedure HEAVEN, short for Head Anastomosis Venture. He claims to have succeeded in the process by reconnecting the spinal cord of a dog, then mice, splicing two heads on a laboratory mouse, performing this multiple times.

Dr. Canavero claims to have gotten the idea for using electricity only after reading the novel. But Mary Shelley’s novel never mentions electricity, or how it might be applied. She only mentions “some powerful engine”. The book is extraordinarily devoid of detail in the process. The idea it was electricity she was referring to, was later supposition, which may well have come from the ideas of using electricity to animate tissue of dead frogs, promoted by another Italian, Luigi Galvani. Though, for a bio neurosurgeon to only come to the idea of the role electrical energy plays in the human spinal cord, by reading a 200 year-old novel, seems, well, novel.

There is more than some passing evidence that this story may be a hoax, created as a viral marketing campaign for the release of 2015 video game, “Metal Gear Solid 5: Phantom Pain”, which caused an internet stir at the time, but the very real Dr. Canavero insists he is not associated with the game. If the transplant surgery is a success, then we can all read the book again to see what other secrets it might hold for modern science.