Frankenstein is as terrifying as it is enduring. While tales featuring monsters will always be popular in real life and in fiction, what's kept the story of the mad doctor sewing together a pile of corpses and bringing it to life so timeless is how it touches on a primal fear in humans. Namely, our fear of dying and desire to come back after being clinically dead. While medical science has progressed exponentially over the past few decades and seems to keep improving, there will always be limitations. But there's at least one doctor doesn't believe that.
Sergio Canavero is a controversial neurosurgeon from Italy. He believes impossible is only in the way of the mind and anything can become possible by changing your perspective. He drew a lot of attention to himself during a TED Talk he gave in 2015 where he made an outrageous claim that he said was inspired by Dr. Frankenstein.
Canavero swore that by 2017 he would conduct the first successful human head transplant. While it sounds like something that can't be done, he assured everyone he was up to the challenge. He had even found a willing subject for the experimental procedure.
Sergio described how monumental perfecting this surgery could be. Essentially, he feels he has unlocked the secret to cheating death.
"For too long nature has dictated her rules to us. We're born, we grow, we age and we die. For millions of years humans have evolved and 100 billion humans have died. That's genocide on a mass scale. We have entered an age where we will take our destiny back in our hands. It will change everything. It will change you at every level."
At a press conference in Vienna, Canavero announced he had successfully completed the world's first human head transplant. Given what this could mean, it's understandable why so many would be excited by this news. However, Canavero didn't offer much or any proof to back up these claims. He said,
"The first human transplant on human cadavers has been done. A full head swap between brain dead organ donors is the next stage. And that is the final step for the formal head transplant for a medical condition which is imminent."
That's right. Apparently, this procedure was performed on cadavers. That's not that unusual, as you wouldn't want to try this for the first time on living subjects. He said the procedure lasted 18 hours and involved disconnecting and reconnecting portions of each corpse's spine and nervous system. He then said that he used electricity to stimulate the muscles, to prove that they had been successfully swapped. While he didn't provide any evidence of this, he said all of the info would be released within the next few days.
If true, this would be revolutionary. Although it's called a "head transplant," it can more accurately be described as a "body transplant." It would essentially be able to solve just about any ailment. Whether you're paralyzed or need an organ replaced, this would keep your brain intact and put you into a healthy new vessel, extending your life possibly endlessly. Currently, you have to solve each issue individually, but with this, it's a complete overhaul.
As you'd imagine, while many were hopeful, many more were skeptical. Several were quick to point out the improbability of being able to reconnect a fully detached spinal cord. There are millions of nerve connections that need to be linked back together, and being able to rejoin all of them would be nearly impossible. By comparison, a heart transplant is simple, as there are only a few pieces you need to reconnect. In 2017, we're just now starting to understand how to successfully transplant hands. Going from that to the entire body seems entirely unlikely.
Another issue that's lead to much skepticism over Canavero's claim is the fact the brain is the most delicate of all organs. It becomes damaged beyond repair within minutes of losing its blood supply. So, it's dubious anyone would be able to not only keep the brain from degrading, but also reconnect a spine and the innumerable nerves attached to it. But say that Canavero did somehow do it. That leads to a whole new issue. Face, hand and penis transplants have recently become possible, but often times they don't take. Many recipients psychologically reject them, as they're not the body parts they're used to. That's just one portion of their anatomy. Imagine how they'd react if it was their entire body.
So Canavero detached and switched two cadaver heads, claims he will soon perform the procedure on the brain dead and then will be able to perfect the procedure and grant us longer and higher quality life. In response to this, Neuroscientist Dean Burnett summed everything up nicely, saying,
"Maybe the procedure did make a good show of ‘attaching’ the nerves and blood vessels on the broad scale, but, so what? That’s just the start of what’s required for a working bodily system. There’s still a ways to go. You can weld two halves of different cars together and call it a success if you like, but if the moment you turn the key in the ignition the whole thing explodes, most would be hard pressed to back you up on your brilliance."