Waking up the dead: surgeon plans brain transplants in three years
A neuroscientist claims he will be able to "wake up" people who have been cryogenically frozen within three years, by transferring their brains to donor bodies.
Professor Sergio Canavero, director of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group, has announced plans to carry out the first human head transplant, an operation which he claims is just 10 months away.
But he is now thinking further ahead, and wants to begin brain transplants within three years. If the procedures are successful, he believes that frozen brains could be thawed and inserted into a donor, effectively bringing "dead" people back to life.
Hundreds of people who were dying or paralysed have had their bodies or brains cryogenically preserved in the hope that medical science will one day be able to cure their conditions.
Although many experts are sceptical that the brain can be thawed without damage, Prof Canavero said he planned to awaken patients frozen by the Alcor Life Extension Foundation, which is based in Arizona.
"As soon as the first human head transplant has taken place, no later than 2018, we will be able to attempt to reawaken the first frozen head," Prof Canavero said.
"We are 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, meaning 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."
However, Prof Canavero admitted that there could be physical and psychological problems that come with putting a brain in an entirely different body.
"What may 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 a different skull. It creates a situation that will certainly not be easy," he said.
British scientists are sceptical about whether the brain could be fully restored from frozen. Clive Coen, professor of neuroscience at King's College London, said the chances of bringing a brain back was "infinitesimal".
Dr Channa Jayasena, clinical senior lecturer at Imperial College London, added: "It is currently not possible to freeze and thaw human tissue without killing many cells within it."
Prof Canavero is working with a Chinese team of doctors led by Dr Ren Xiaoping, of Harbin Medical Centre, who helped perform the first successful hand transplant in the US.
Although Russian computer scientist Valery Spiridonov, who has spinal muscular atrophy, had volunteered to become the first head transplant patient, the team expects the first operation to be with a Chinese donor and patient.
Last year, the team announced it had successfully carried out a head transplant on a monkey.
Prof Canavero said if the human head transplant works, it could have fundamental implications for human consciousness and even religion. "It will be a turning point in human history," he said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)