What if you could replace your body with someone's else's? Would you do it? Well, an Italian surgeon claims that such a procedure may be possible in just two years time, by grafting a living person's head onto a donor's body, reports The Guardian.
The Frankensteinian procedure, which can be considered a body transplant or head transplant depending on how you look at it, has already been shown to be possible with other animals. For instance, Soviet scientist Vladimir Demikhov grafted a dog's head onto the body of another in 1959, and U.S. scientists successfully transplanted the head of a macaque onto the body of another in 1970. Just last year in China, some "headway" was made on a body transplant procedure for mice, but so far nothing of the sort has been attempted with humans.
The biggest obstacle to such a procedure becoming a reality has more to do with ethical outrage than scientific viability. Putting philosophical questions about identity, personality and the mind/soul aside, the idea of grafting one person's head onto the body of another sounds grotesque, if not downright blasphemous.
Sergio Canavero, the Italian doctor ''spearheading" the effort, is well aware of the opposition.
“If society doesn’t want it, I won’t do it. But if people don’t want it, in the U.S. or Europe, that doesn’t mean it won’t be done somewhere else,” he said. “I’m trying to go about this the right way, but before going to the moon, you want to make sure people will follow you.”
There may also be less objection to the procedure depending on who it is designed for. Those suffering from terminal diseases, for instance, could have their lives saved with a body transplant. Paraplegics could potentially walk again. The procedure could lead to very real medical benefits; it wouldn't be purely for the sake of aberrant vanity.
Canavero is already in the process of assembling an all-star team of surgeons to perfect the head/body transplant procedure in humans. In fact, he believes that assembling the team will be the most time-consuming aspect of the plan. Once the team is together, he thinks the procedure will be relatively elementary to refine.
A fair share of critics doubt Canavero's timeline, however.
“There is no evidence that the connectivity of cord and brain would lead to useful sentient or motor function following head transplantation,” said Richard Borgens, director of the Center for Paralysis Research at Purdue University.
Aside from the surgical difficulty, what kind of effort might it entail for a person to successfully master the use of an entirely new body? People's bodies are very different. Who knows what kind of unintended medical problems could arise from one person's brain adjusting to the rhythm's and movements of another person's body?
For now, such questions are purely speculative, but if Canavero has his way, they could soon have real answers. It may simply be more of a question of when, rather than how.
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