A year ago, we brought you the trailer for the YA sci-fi novel "Noggin," about a teen who gets a brand new body for his severed head...
Well, the "sci-fi" may only be "sci" in the future. The idea of the human head transplant has intrigued the popular consciousness for decades, from Red Sox player Ted Williams famously freezing his to rumors about Walt Disney doing the same ... and now a neuroscientist in Italy thinks human head transplants could happen in this decade.
Dr. Sergio Canavero, a member of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group, says there's been enough medical and technological advancement to put together a project aiming for the first successful human head transplant in 2017.
However, Quartz reports, a spinal cord has never been connected from the head of one animal to the donor body of another -- so even in the case of a successful rhesus monkey head transplant in 1970, the animal was paralyzed below the transplant point. Canavero is aware that spinal linkage is the main barrier for human head transplants, but argues that recent advancements now make the idea of a human head connected to a functioning body feasible.
"The greatest technical hurdle to [a head transplant] is of course the reconnection of the donor’s (D)’s and recipients (R)’s spinal cords," he wrote in a new paper for Surgical Neurology International. "It is my contention that the technology only now exists for such linkage."
Other scientists are deeply skeptical, and say that this kind of technology is far, far off, if it's feasible at all. "[T]he possibility of it happening is very unlikely," says Dr. Harry Goldsmith, a neurological surgery professor at the University of California, Davis. "I don't believe it will ever work, there are too many problems with the procedure.”
Before you start mapping out your plan to find a body donor for when you die, keep in mind that Canavero himself estimates that the procedure would cost at least $14.5 million. Not to mention the ethical barriers. Among other issues, imagine if only the super-rich could get such a procedure, and just keep dropping a cool $15 or so million each time they need/want a new vessel, the wealthiest members of society essentially becoming immortal and harvesting young bodies like the robots in "The Matrix."
We like the "Futurama" version of things better -- just sentient heads in jars.