from the what-will-they-transplant-next dept.
Michelle Star writes at C/net that Surgeon Sergio Canavero, director of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group in Italy, believes he has developed a technique to remove the head from a non-functioning body and transplant it onto the healthy body. According to Canavero's paper published in Surgical Neurology International, first, both the transplant head and the donor body need to be cooled in order to slow cell death. Then, the neck of both would be cut and the major blood vessels linked with tubes. Finally, the spinal cords would be severed, with as clean a cut as possible. Joining the spinal cords, with the tightly packed nerves inside, is key. The plan involves flushing the area with polyethylene glycol, followed by several hours of injections of the same, a chemical that encourages the fat in cell membranes to mesh. The blood vessels, muscles and skin would then be sutured and the patient would be induced into a coma for several weeks to keep them from moving around; meanwhile, electrodes would stimulate the spine with electricity in an attempt to strengthen the new nerve connections.
Head transplants have been tried before. In 1970, Robert White led a team at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, US, that tried to transplant the head of one monkey on to the body of another. The surgeons stopped short of a full spinal cord transfer, so the monkey could not move its body. Despite Canavero’s enthusiasm, many surgeons and neuroscientists believe massive technical hurdles push full body transplants into the distant future. The starkest problem is that no one knows how to reconnect spinal nerves and make them work again. “This is such an overwhelming project, the possibility of it happening is very unlikely,” says Harry Goldsmith.
This experimental study has confirmed a method to avoid cerebral ischemia during the surgery and solved an important part of the problem of how to accomplish long-term survival after transplantation and preservation of the donor brain stem.
A breakthrough in restoring micro-circulation has allowed scientists to keep pig brains alive outside of a body:
In a step that could change the definition of death, researchers have restored circulation to the brains of decapitated pigs and kept the reanimated organs alive for as long as 36 hours.
The feat offers scientists a new way to study intact brains in the lab in stunning detail. But it also inaugurates a bizarre new possibility in life extension, should human brains ever be kept on life support outside the body.
The work was described on March 28 at a meeting held at the National Institutes of Health to investigate ethical issues arising as US neuroscience centers explore the limits of brain science.
During the event, Yale University neuroscientist Nenad Sestan disclosed that a team he leads had experimented on between 100 and 200 pig brains obtained from a slaughterhouse, restoring their circulation using a system of pumps, heaters, and bags of artificial blood warmed to body temperature. There was no evidence that the disembodied pig brains regained consciousness. However, in what Sestan termed a "mind-boggling" and "unexpected" result, billions of individual cells in the brains were found to be healthy and capable of normal activity.
It's possible that the level of function could be increased, and the brains could be kept alive indefinitely:
Sestan now says the organs produce a flat brain wave equivalent to a comatose state, although the tissue itself "looks surprisingly great" and, once it's dissected, the cells produce normal-seeming patterns.
The lack of wider electrical activity could be irreversible if it is due to damage and cell death. The pigs' brains were attached to the BrainEx device roughly four hours after the animals were decapitated.
However, it could also be due to chemicals the Yale team added to the blood replacement to prevent swelling, which also severely dampen the activity of neurons. "You have to understand that we have so many channel blockers in our solution," Sestan told the NIH. "This is probably the explanation why we don't get [any] signal."
Sestan told the NIH it is conceivable that the brains could be kept alive indefinitely and that steps could be attempted to restore awareness. He said his team had elected not to attempt either because "this is uncharted territory."
Next step: hooking it up to a computer?
Related: First Human Head Transplant Could Happen in Two Years
Complete Head Transplant or Complete Publicity Stunt
Claims That Head Transplant Has Been Successfully Done on a Monkey
How Would You Define "A Successful Human Head Transplant"?
The businessinsider.com article seems to best line out the many clues and linkings that this may be the case, not the least of which seems to be that the image of Dr. Canavero is used as the neurosurgeon in the game. Also possibly telling, the article states:
Hideo Kojima, who heads up the “Metal Gear Solid” franchise, tweeted about his next project in 2010: “The next project will challenge a certain type of taboo. If I mess up, I’ll probably have to leave the industry. However, I don’t want to pass by avoiding that. I turn 47 this year. It’s been 24 years since I started making games. Today, I got an ally who would happily support me in that risk. Although it’s just one person. For a start, it’s good.” This makes it sound like Kojima was able to persuade Dr. Canavero to join his venture — to help leverage his authority as a famous doctor and neurosurgeon to promote "Metal Gear Solid 5" with a viral marketing stunt.
The scientist who claims to be about to carry out the first human head transplant says that he has successfully done the procedure on a monkey.
Maverick neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero has tested the procedure in experiments on monkeys and human cadavers, he told New Scientist.
Dr Canavero says that the success shows that his plan to transplant a human's head onto a donor body is in place. He says that the procedure will be ready before the end of 2017 and could eventually become a way of treating complete paralysis.
takyon: Coverage at New Scientist with a "graphic content warning".