Dr. Frankenstein was certainly an interesting character. Whether you choose to believe that he created his monster for the betterment and advancement of humankind, or out of sheer arrogance, his fictional scientific endeavors were still fascinating.
The idea and desire to reanimate the dead has always lingered in the minds of humans. But always it's been little more than a medically impossible pipe dream.
Wait, what are we trying to do?
According to The Guardian, Italian surgeon Sergio Canavero has announced that the fictional Dr. Frankenstein's idea is becoming more plausible with modern technology. Canavero allegedly has plans to do a full-body transplant by grafting a living person's head onto a deceased person's body, and that he may be able to reach this goal within only two years.
This would be pretty incredible. Being able to transplant someone's head onto another body so they could live longer is certainly interesting and could help prolong the lives of so many people.
The doctor spoke with New Scientist where he talked about his mission, how he hopes to accomplish it, and the ethical implications behind it.
Before furthering his research, he is looking for support from the medical community. This summer, Canavero will attend a meeting in Maryland where he hopes to assemble a team to work on this endeavor with him. He told New Scientist:
If society doesn’t want it, I won’t do it. But if people don’t want it, in the US or Europe, that doesn’t mean it won’t be done somewhere else. 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.
If you're wondering how Dr. Canavero looks to go about this tricky procedure, here's an abridged description from his article:
The recipient's head is then moved onto the donor body and the two ends of the spinal cord are fused together.
Next, the muscles and blood supply would be sutured and the recipient kept in a coma for three or four weeks to prevent movement. Implanted electrodes would provide regular electrical stimulation to the spinal cord, because research suggests this can strengthen new nerve connections.
When the recipient wakes up, Canavero predicts they would be able to move and feel their face and would speak with the same voice.
Sounds super easy, right? Although Canavero is optimistic about the ability to master full-body transplants, many others in the medical community range from skeptical to saying that this is absolutely not a possibility.
Is it actually possible?
Harry Goldsmith, University of California, Davis neurological surgery professor stated, "This is such an overwhelming project, the possibility of it happening is very unlikely.”
Even if it were to happen, Richard Borgens from the Center for Paralysis Research at Purdue University in Indiana said in the article that there's no evidence to support that the spinal cord and brain would be able to function properly.
Furthermore, since Dr. Canavero released his study last month, more scientists have stepped forward debunking his claims.
Buzzfeed caught up with plastic and reconstructive surgery and neurological surgery professor, Dr. Chad Gordon, of Johns Hopkins University who said that his plans are impossible with today's technology.
There’s no way he’s going to hook up somebody’s brain to someone’s spinal cord and have them be functional.
While Dr. Canavero's plans aim for two years from now, Dr. Gordon says that even his timeline is way off:
On the conservative side, we’re about 100 years away from being able to figure this out. If he’s saying two, and he’s promising a living, breathing, talking, moving human being? He’s lying.
Dr. Christopher Winfree from Colombia University largely concurs with Gordon's statements against Dr. Canavero, saying that we're nowhere near being able to achieve a successful head to body transplant, although he admits that it's not entirely impossible. He told Buzzfeed:
I’m not ruling anything out. A hundred years is a very long time. But what’s currently just an idea could eventually seriously benefit people with life-threatening illnesses destroying their bodies.
So, possible? Probably not anytime soon.
Is this something we should even be doing?
Even though Dr. Canavero's work sounds wildly infeasible, it still brings up an interesting question. Even if for the right reasons, is it morally sound to perform surgeries of this nature?
This almost sounds as if it could turn into a macabre Gattaca, in which people willing and able to pay can pick and choose bodies they prefer at their whim. Spooky.
I'm not saying that this kind of medical advancement isn't important. It's crucial, and absolutely amazing that we are even able to discuss this as a possibility (no matter how unlikely). But where do we draw the line?
Do you think that full-body transplants are the way of the future, or does this sound like a horror movie in the making? What would Doctor Frankenstein think of all this? Be sure to let me know in the comments section so we can get this conversation going!