It may sound like a cheesy storyline taken from some B-rated horror movie, but science is on the verge of accomplishing a full brain transplant – if the words of a world leading Italian surgeon are anything to go by.
There are hundreds of dying patients who have refused to surrender to their terminal illnesses and had their brains or bodies frozen, hoping that science will one day be able to ‘awake’ them and cure their respective conditions.
Professor Sergio Canavero – Director of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group – claims that science has now progressed to such an extent that patients who have had their brains cryogenically frozen could be woken up in a matter of years.
Dr Canavero, who is looking to perform the first human head transplant within a year, plans to commence trials on brain transplants soon after.
Even though many of his peers are skeptical that a brain can be thawed without suffering any damage, he is adamant that if the human head transplant goes as planned the world will witness the first brain transplant in a donor body within three years.
Clive Coen, Professor of Neuroscience at King’s College London, is one of the most vocal opponents of Professor Canavero’s theory.
“The advocates of cryogenics are unable to cite any study in which a whole mammalian brain, let alone a whole mammalian body, has been resuscitated after storage in liquid nitrogen,” he said.
“Even if reviving that body were possible – it isn’t – all the complicated organs would have been wrecked from the start, and warming them up again would wreck them further.
“Irreversible damage is caused during the process of taking the mammalian brain into sub-zero temperatures. The wishful thinking engendered by cryogenics companies is irresponsible.”
But Professor Canavero seems unfazed by the criticism leveled at him. He recently told the German magazine Ooom that he plans to awake a patient frozen by the Alcor Life Extension Foundation by 2020.
“We will try to bring the first of the company’s patients back to life, not in 100 years. As soon as the first human head transplant has taken place, i.e. no later than 2018, we will be able to attempt to reawaken the first frozen head,” the Professor said.
“We are currently planning the world’s first brain transplant, and I consider it realistic that we will be ready in three years at the latest.
“A brain transplant has many advantages. First, there is barely any immune reaction, which means the problem of rejection does not exist.
“The brain is, in a manner of speaking, a neutral organ. If you transplant a head with vessels, nerves, tendons and muscles, rejection can pose a massive problem. This is not the case with the brain.”
Although Mr. Canavero is confident of a positive outcome, he concedes that putting a brain in a donor body could trigger certain ‘physical and psychological problems’.
“What many be problematic, is that no aspect of your original external body remains the same. Your head is no longer there; your brain is transplanted into an entirely different skull,” the Professor said.
“It creates a new situation that will certainly not be easy.”
Mr. Canavero is working alongside a Chinese team of doctors led by Dr Xiaoping Ren of Harbin Medical Centre, who was part of the team that performed the first successful hand transplantation in the United States.
In 2016, the team successfully performed a head transplant on a monkey and released photos from the complex surgical procedure.
Professor Canavero said the technology to perform the first human head transplant will be available by the end of the year, which is when the search for a suitable donor body will commence.
He also remarked that if the human head transplant is successful, it may have ‘fundamental implications’ not only for human consciousness but religion as well.
“In a few months we will sever a body from a head in an unprecedented medical procedure. In this phase, there is no life activity, not in the brain, not anywhere else in the body,” he said.
“If we bring this patient back to life we will receive the first real account of what actually happens after death. The head transplant gives us the first insight into whether there is an afterlife, a heaven, a hereafter.
“If we are able to prove that our brain does not create consciousness, religions will be swept away forever. They will no longer be necessary, as humans no longer need to be afraid of death. We no longer need a Catholic Church, no Judaisim, and no Islam because religions in general will be obsolete.
“It will be a turning point in human history.”
Sounds a bit eerie and disturbing, but our future depends on the advancement of science and this is just that.