Warning: This post contains a graphic image of an injured monkey which may upset some readers
A team at the Konkuk University School of Medicine in South Korea may have proved it is possible to reconnect a severed spinal cord, paving the way for head transplants.
C-Yoon Kim and his team released a video of a mice sniffing and moving their limbs a couple of weeks after having their spinal cords severed at the neck and re-fused.
“Therefore I guess it is possible to reconnect the [spinal] cord after complete severance,” he says.
To some, that means only one thing — head transplants are possible.
At this stage, there are apparently seven papers yet to be published which will include details of the procedures.
They will appear soon in the journals Surgery and CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics and it should be noted that any release of information such as this before publication is unusual.
“When it gets published in a peer-reviewed journal I’ll be interested,” Arthur Caplan of the New York University School of Medicine told New Scientist.
“I think the rest of it is BS.”
One of the biggest issues is the involvement of surgeon Sergio Canavero. Canavero made a name for himself last year by claiming he would complete a head swap operation on a human in 2017.
He even has a volunteer — spinal muscular atophy sufferer Valery Spiridonov, but the fact he’s also trying to raise funds for the operation has sceptics on full alert.
In a separate experiment described in the same paper, Canavero claims researchers at Harbin Medical University in China completed a head transplant on a monkey.
Here’s the image they released:
They did not reattach the spinal cord, but the monkey was successfully kept alive for 20 hours after the surgery, then euthanised “for ethical reasons”, Canavero said.
But combined with the “successful” spinal cord surgery on mice, a full recovery was possible, Canavero said.
Even if it is, there are reams of ethical issues to work through first. But that doesn’t mean the science should be ignored.
“This is going to open up a whole new science of spinal cord trauma reconstruction,” Michael Sarr, editor of the journal Surgery, told New Scientist.