Italian surgeon Sergio Canavero is confident a patient's head can be grafted onto a healthy body. However, the surgery would cost £7.5million to complete. This may seem like pure fantasy, but Dr. Canavero of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group strongly believes the surgery could be done in 2017. He claims the necessary techniques exist.
Dr. Canavero already has the list of potential patients ready. The location hasn't been decided as yet but he would like to do the transplant in London.
The body would come from a brain-dead donor. The donor's and patient's heads would be severed at the same time with an ultra-sharp blade. The patient's head and the donor's body would then be attached using polyethanol glycol, a glue that will fuse the two ends of the spinal cord.
The patient would then be put under coma for four weeks before he can move his head and body. They would also be given small electric shocks so their spinal cords can be stimulated and connections between the head and body can be strengthened.
When the patient awakes from coma, they would be able to speak with the same voice, as reported by New Scientist.
The surgery may be a dream come true for paralysed people like Christopher Reeve and those with spinal cord injuries and cancer affected organs. People with motor neurone disease like Stephen Hawking may also benefit from the transplant.
The transplant may be paradigm breaking but there are ethical issues one needs to consider. If the patient wants to have children, the body would belong to the donor and the child would be biologically theirs.
Also, initially, there may be a shortage of donors which means the number of transplants would be less.
While Dr. Canavero is optimistic about that the transplant will soon be a reality, others don't think so. William Matthews, Chairman of the American Academy of Neurological and Orthopaedic Surgeons, told Dailymail that he embraced "the concept of spinal fusion and I think there are a lot of areas that a head transplant could be used but I disagree with Canavero on the timing."
'He thinks it's ready, I think it's far into the future.'
"There is no evidence that the connectivity of cord and brain would lead to useful sentient or motor function following head transplantation," Richard Borgens, Director of the Center for Paralysis Research at Purdue University in Indiana, told New Scientist.
Harry Goldsmith, a California doctor who made someone with a spinal cord injury walk again, said: "I don't believe it will ever happen."
Dr. Canovero hopes to explore the surgerical procedure at a meeting of neurological surgeons in June this year in Maryland.
"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," Canovero said. "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."