Ruminations

Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Friday, April 28, 2017

Transplants in the Realm of Fiction

"[One] problematic [issue with brain transplants, however, would be 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."
"At the moment, I can only disclose that there has been massive progress in medical experiments that would have seemed impossible even as recently as a few months ago. The milestones that have been reached will undoubtedly revolutionize medicine.
"[Experiments on a number of different animals in South Korea and China have been conducted] and the results are unambiguous: the spinal cord -- and with it the ability to move -- can be entirely restored."
"In a few months we will sever a body from a head in an unprecedented medical procedure. If we bring this person back to life, we will receive the first real account of what actually happens after death, whether there is an afterlife, a heaven, a hereafter or whatever you may want to call it or whether death is simply a flicking off of the light switch and that's it"
Italian surgeon Sergio Canavero
Sergio-Canavero Xiaoping Ren Xiaoping Ren and Sergio Canavero, the surgeons behind the plans for the world's first human head transplant. OOOM-Sergio Canavero
"[Canavero's latest theory of merging head transplants with] resurrecting [the frozen dead is absurd]. People have their own doubts about whether anything can be salvaged from these frozen heads or bodies because of the damage freezing does."
"Then saying that he has some technique for making this happen, that has never been demonstrated in frozen animals, is absurd."
"[Canavero plays on people's fantasies] that somehow you can come back from death, fantasies that you can live forever if you just keep moving your head around. [He manipulates and contorts science] That's why I pay attention to him."
Bioethicist Arthur Caplan, head of ethics, NYU Langone Medical Centre, New York City

"Unless it is technically possible, and it is not, to replace all the water left in a body's cells with glycol, unfreezing a frozen corpse will rupture the cell walls ensuring that you are mush -- a corpsesicle."
Dr. Eike-Henner Kluge, bioethicist, University of Victoria
No matter; Dr. Canavero -- vulgar showman he may be -- is adamant that his surgical methodology imagined not yet put into action, will serve to demonstrate to the doubting world of science, that a human body can be frozen and then regenerated; it works with frogs after all, why not humans? Perhaps because we are not frogs and nature's design to preserve frogs did not extend to humans....? In ten months' time (while awaiting a donor body), he is fully prepared to transplant a head.

But he is also looking forard to reawakening a cryogenically frozen brain, to transplant it as well into a waiting skull, not its original home.

Dr. Canavero explained his plans in depth in an interview with German-language OOOM magazine recently, that he plans to bring back to life brains frozen in liquid nitrogen at a cryogenics bank, within the next three years. As he sees the situation, a brain transplant would not be as problematical as a full-head transplant, though that is precisely what he plans to undertake in under a year's time.

In transplanting a brain, rejection issues are sidelined since no longer would there be a requirement to reconnect and stitch up severed vessels, nerves, tendons and muscles as occurs when a head is fused to a brain-dead donor body.

This man with his hugely improbable plans to shake up the world of science and transplantation first sketched out his plans to mount a human head transplant in the journal Surgical Neurology International, two years earlier. Fusing the donor and recipient's severed spinal cords, a medical-scientific feat never even before imagined, to restore function while avoiding massive, irreversible brain damage, or death, is the issue that Dr. Canavero identifies as the most critical technical hurdle in achieving successfully in a head transplant.

He explained in an earlier interview that his unique, self-designed protocol relies on a special gluelike substance he calls "fusogen", which was developed by a chemist. It is that "fusogen" that he will rely upon to reconnect the severed spinal cord stumps and persuade axons and neurons to regrow across the surgical gap. He plans his first head transplant surgery to take place in Harbin, China, with the surgical team to be led by Xiaopig Ren, a Chinese orthopedic surgeon whose credits include participation in the first hand transplant undertaken in 1999 in the United States.

Dr. Ren has been practising this type of surgery, performing hundreds of head transplants in rodents, preparing himself for the surgery with human patients. According to Dr. Canavero's vision on how to proceed in  grafting a head on a donor body, the process is to cut off two heads; one the recipient, the other the donor. The donor's brain would be dead, but his body in healthy condition perhaps as a result of some catastrophic accident.

The recipient's head would be transferred to the donor body with the use of a specially designed swivel crane. The procedure must take place in less than an hour to minimize complications.



Skeptics abound. Most scientists scoff at the very idea that such a surgery could be attempted with the expectation of success. As for freezing a human body or body parts, let alone a brain and then anticipating its resurrection, it is the stuff of science fiction, an illusion. And then those who prefer to wait and watch, point out that two years ago 21st Century Medicine researchers (a California cryobiology research company) reported having succeeded in freezing the brain of a rabbit with the use of a flash-freezing technique meant to protect and stabilize tissue.
"This procedure will not work. If it was a good procedure, show me a dog that has undergone it, walking across the stage with a transplanted body."
"Try it with monkeys first. But he can't: the result would be, at best, a shambling horror, an animal driven mad with pain and terror, crippled and whimpering, and a poor advertisement for his experiment. And most likely what he'd have is a collection of corpses that suffered briefly before expiring." 
Biologist Paul Zachary Myers, associate professor, University of Minnesota
"Experts have pointed out multiple problems in every step of the proposed surgery. For example, gluing two ends of severed spinal cords will not make nerve fibers fuse well into each other, as nerve cells immediately form scar tissue. Even if the glue worked, connecting millions of nerves together is not possible. Other big-picture issues include getting the immune system to accept the new head, and keeping the head alive. Scientists are still figuring out how low they can bring the temperature before brain tissue starts to act up."
Brain Decoder


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