The £7.5million body swap would initially be used to give a new lease of life to
paralysed people – including those with spinal cord injuries similar to those sustained by the late actor Christopher Reeve.
People with muscle-wasting diseases and those whose organs are riddled with cancer could also have their head put on a new body.
Those with motor neurone disease, the condition suffered by Stephen Hawking and portrayed by Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne in the film The Theory of Everything, might also benefit.
Eventually, the technique could be used to extend the life of healthy people in the ‘ultimate cosmetic surgery’ Critics have described the plans as ‘pure fantasy’, but Dr Canavero claims all the necessary techniques exist and that he just needs to put them together.
|Dr Sergio Canavero|
Dr Canavero already has a long list of potential patients, and will announce his plans at a top medical conference this summer in a bid to get the backing needed to do the first transplant in 2017.
The location has yet to be decided, but the surgeon, from the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group, says he would love to do it in London.
The new body would come from a normal transplant donor who is brain dead. Both the donor and the patient would have their head severed from their spinal cord at the same time, using an ultra-sharp blade to give a clean cut.
The patient’s head would then be moved on to the donor’s body and attached using a ‘glue’ called polyethylene glycol to fuse the two ends of the spinal cord together.
The muscles and blood supply would be stitched up, before the patient is put in a coma for four weeks to stop them moving while the head and body heal together.If that doesn’t sound horrific enough, they would then be given small electric shocks to stimulate their spinal cord and strengthen the connections between their head and new body.
When the patient is brought out of their medically-induced coma, they should be able to move, feel their face and even speak with the same voice, this week’s New Scientist reports.
Powerful immunosuppressant drugs should stop the new body from being rejected and intensive psychological support would also be provided.
Dr Canavero says he believes it would be ethically sound to carry out the procedure when people have no other hope of a cure. However, the ethical arguments extend past the transplant itself.For instance, if the patient went on to have children, they would biologically belong to the donor because the sperm or eggs would have come from the new body.
Initially, a shortage of donors means that the surgery would be limited to those with severe illness. But eventually, it could be used to allow healthy people to live longer.
Dr Canavero said that if science reaches the stage when human cloning is easy, a 60-year-old could make a copy of themselves.They could then put their old head on a new, healthy body made from their own DNA – meaning they would keep their memories and personality.
What do you think of this?
Science or madness?