back to article Modern-day Frankenstein invents CURE for BEHEADING

Italian scientists claim they have invented a method for carrying out a head transplant - a discovery that could prove life-changing for patients suffering from hitherto incurable diseases. Boffins at the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group claim to have devised a new way to connect the brain to the spinal column. The …

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  1. Anonymous Coward 15

    We have a Ship of Theseus problem here.

  2. hi_robb

    Hmmm.

    Thanks for the headsup...

    D

    1. wowfood
      Joke

      Re: Hmmm.

      If this new procedure fails, I'm sure heads will roll.

    2. James Micallef Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Hmmm.

      So technically it isn't really a head transplant, it's more of a whole-body transplant?

    3. Adam 1 Silver badge

      Re: Hmmm.

      Eye see what you did there.

  3. Urh
    Trollface

    I'll make the obvious comment.

    Anybody care to volunteer for this procedure?

    1. hplasm Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: I'll make the obvious comment.

      Jarheads?

      1. dssf

        Re: I'll make the obvious comment.

        LOL... Reminds me of what I used to hear Marines say to us Sailors way back when, during PT:

        "No pain, no gain."

        But, someone replied, to dissuade excessive incurred pain:

        "No brain, no pain."

        Sailors late on return to the ship (UA, Unauthorized Absentee) would be admonished to "think with their other head, the one on the top of their shoulders"...

        SO, that has me thinking: For a below-the-neck pentapalegic male (yes, that 5th limb), getting a new body means being able to use his head (the one on his shoulder) to possible new dimensions, but, hopefully not to new dementias...

        I wonder whether the team doing the first procedure will, in unison, hail, "EEEETSSS SAA LYYYVE! EEEETSSS SAAA LYYYYVVVVEEEE!"

    2. Zaphod.Beeblebrox

      Re: I'll make the obvious comment.

      Wonder if it works as well when *adding* a head - if so, I'm in!

  4. LesB
    WTF?

    How to get ahead, errr a head

    Surely it's a body transplant rather than a head transplant? Well, for those of us who keep their brains in their heads, anyway...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: How to get ahead, errr a head

      True, and I imagine they'll be eyeing up Death Row in certain parts of the world as a ready source of donors. Yuck.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: How to get ahead, errr a head

        Save money on keeping 'em in jail ('cos death row generally lasts for years and costs a fortune in appeals and legal costs).

        Mind you, if it were you on death row, would you be willing to let your body live on, rather than none of you?

      2. Captain DaFt

        Re: How to get ahead, errr a head

        " True, and I imagine they'll be eyeing up Death Row in certain parts of the world as a ready source of donors. Yuck. "

        Don't need'em, just clone a headless version of yourself, and good to go! Of course, it'll be an adult head on an infant body, but you'll grow up, again.

        Headless clones:

        http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,138483,00.html

  5. TeeCee Gold badge

    Brings a whole new meaning to....

    ....."an old head on young shoulders".

  6. darklordsid

    Quick, quick, someone please do an urgent head transplant on Ballmer, being the old w8 head obviously defective. A rhesus head would be a welcome improvement!

  7. Alexander Giochalas
    Coat

    Canavero...

    or is it Cadavero?

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Frumious Bandersnatch Silver badge

      Re: Canavero...

      or is it Cadavero?

      It's pronounced FRONKENSTEEN!

  8. Frankee Llonnygog

    Next milestone

    An 'ass' transplant. Urgently needed, given the epidemic of LMFAO

  9. MJI Silver badge

    Spinal repairs

    Now this is the usefull bit.

    I am sure a paraplegic would rather walk using their original body than have someone elses.

    1. Stacy
      Thumb Up

      Re: Spinal repairs

      That's just what I was thinking...

      1. MJI Silver badge

        Re: Spinal repairs

        I used to know a tetraplegic who would have loved that.

        Spinal nerve repairs are as far as I am concerned a huge priority for the medical profession.

        1. Rampant Spaniel

          Re: Spinal repairs

          iirc when communication between the brain and body is severed you end up with a significantly shorter lifespan for many reasons. It's great they are looking at this as many people, even with the ability to repair spinal cord damage (which we don't realistically have as a surgical option yet) will not help everyone. At least now, when our ability to fully repair cord damage becomes an option we will have the rest of the knowledge we need to help people.

          It's tempting to poke holes, it's easy to do so, but we have so much we don't know and work like this, however impractical it may seem, is very important as it forms part of a bigger picture and as we slowly fill in the gaps we begin to be able to beat previously insurmountable problems. I remember talking with professors at college maybe 15 years ago and they were sure we couldn't beat AIDS or Diabetes. As it stands we are damn close to a practical cure for AIDS, we have a workable treatment for AIDS and we can actually cure type 2 Diabetes. I'm sure my grandkids will laugh at how primitive things were in 'our day', but it's very reassuring to know we have people batshit crazy enough to take on something as potentially unpopular and possibly career ending as head transplants, yet talented enough to make progress. How many of our soldiers who fell victims of ied's could use this treatment?

    2. James Micallef Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Spinal repairs

      Re: "I am sure a paraplegic would rather walk using their original body than have someone elses."

      I am sure a paraplegic would rather walk.

  10. pavsmith
    Big Brother

    OH MY GOD! NOW THE ILLUMINATI WILL HAVE A WAY OF LIVING FOREVER!

    Whole farms of healthy young people will be bred specifically to be "rootstock" for our once and future rulers!

    That does it. I'm running for the hills...

    1. Steve the Cynic Silver badge

      Re: rootstock

      See episode 1 of season 1 of Métal Hurlant Chronicles for a creepier version of this.

    2. MacroRodent Silver badge

      re A WAY OF LIVING FOREVER!

      I'm afraid the transplant would not necessarily help so much in any immortality project. The old head on a new body would still be susceptible to dementia, brain tumours etc. The stress caused by the transplant would probably even make things worse for the head.

  11. harimanjaro

    So many possibilities

    "But... before the operation I was a man!

    Wait... don't worry, these look fun..."

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: So many possibilities

      AFAIK you don't need a head transplant for that one.

      But you do need the sharp knife..

    2. AndrueC Silver badge

      Re: So many possibilities

      But... before the operation I was a man!

      Robert Heinlein

      Not a bad book really. A bit saucy in places and the ending is slightly bizarre but worth a read.

      Update: "The story takes place about 2015 AD". Wow. I didn't realise that. Adds a new poignancy to this article.

      Damn. My copy doesn't have this saucy cover.. I missed all the good covers when I was a teenager.

  12. Eguro

    Any report on the future direction of the project?

    Cybermen or Futurama-Head-Jars?

  13. Ralph B
    Terminator

    Richard Herring's Ideal Woman

    This news has no relevance to young Richard Herring:

    - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FHOUnsYSaLA

  14. Montreux

    Is it April 1st?

    We can't currently repair damaged nerves in humans. It would a Nobel prize level achievement if you worked out how to do it. So head transplants are just nonsense.

    1. Omgwtfbbqtime Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      "We can't currently repair damaged nerves in humans"

      Seems like this may be a way to do it?

      Really sharp knife, short length of nerve from a donor (or elsewhere in the body - like skin for a skin graft) and glue in (for want of a better description) a bypass round the damaged nerve.

      IANAS(urgeon) but it seems like IF the body transplant can work, then a nerve repair SHOULD be a much simpler technique.

    2. Goldmember

      Re: Is it April 1st?

      Even if nerve repair isn't possible, there are still uses for this. I watched a documentary on Robert White's experiments a few years ago (very interesting by the way, and it even showed a video of the monkey waking up with a new body, albeit completely paralysed). One application brought up in the documentary was the scenario of a paraplegic whose brain was still intact and functional, but whose body was failing. The could be given the body of a brain dead person and go on living.

      If nothing else, it is another sky fairy myth-dispelling tool, proving that 'souls', which many religions die when the head is removed, are non-existent.

      Minor article correction by the way; the idea wasn't to keep both monkeys alive. One was always going to be killed and be the body 'donor' for the other one, which is part of the reason the experiment was so controversial, and practically ruined Robert White's career.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Is it April 1st?

        "[he] could be given the body of a brain dead person and go on living."

        "I made it! I'm alive! ...Why do I look like Glenn Beck?!!?"

      2. John 110
        Joke

        Re: Is it April 1st?

        @Goldmember

        "If nothing else, it is another sky fairy myth-dispelling tool, proving that 'souls', which many religions die when the head is removed, are non-existent."

        That's Highlander you're thinking of...

    3. NumptyScrub

      Re: Is it April 1st?

      quote: "We can't currently repair damaged nerves in humans. It would a Nobel prize level achievement if you worked out how to do it. So head transplants are just nonsense."

      From the article: "Last month, researchers at Cleveland University managed to heal rats with broken spines, allowing them to control their bladders once again. The doctors successfully encouraged nerves to grow between two fractured sections of spine."

      Dunno about you, but that sounds like being able to encourage the growth of nerve tissue between 2 sections of spine in a human is potentially acheivable to me. For head transplants, you just have the tissue rejection issue inherent in all transplants, and also the issue that you cannot guarantee that nerves are going to reconnect in the right places. Do human spines really have identically placed nerve clusters so that your brain impulses that used to control your left arm, will still control your left arm post-transplant?

      Sadly I do not think this will be the case, and that you'll end up thrashing like a newborn until you relearn how to send the correct messages to your new body parts. Assuming that you can get the heart and lung nerves correctly connected, of course... IIRC heart and lung function are usually considered critical for continued function of any body ;)

      1. PatientOne

        Re: Is it April 1st?

        @NumptyScrub

        The brain re-maps the connections making it easier when reconnecting broken nerves or spinal tissue. It learns quite quickly, especially with older people as we know what we're trying to do and what the outcome should be.

        you see this a lot with stroke patients (where the brain can re-wire itself) and minor spinal injuries.

        So all you need to do is connect the head then maintain heart and lung functions until the brain has those mapped and under control, then wait for the patient to learn how to control their new body. Might take a year or two before the patient can do back flips, but there's still hope.

        However, I don't think this is has a practical application due to suitable candidates being few and far between: You'd need a donor who has gone brain dead but who has an otherwise healthy body, and who is not going to be subjected to an autopsy to see how they died, so Big Brother contestants won't qualify...

        1. Simon Harris Silver badge

          Backflips

          If somebody had just glued my head onto a new body, I'd be a bit wary of doing anything too acrobatic!

      2. jubtastic1
        Trollface

        Re: thrashing like a newborn

        Ah, you're awake Mr... NumptyScrub? I'm pleased to tell you that the operation was a complete success however there will be a period of adjustment while your brain rewires its connections to the new donor body.

        To assist you over this period we have implanted a small device which allows you to manually trigger limb movements through the judicious use of this technological marvel, the QWOP keypad.

      3. James Micallef Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Is it April 1st?

        " Assuming that you can get the heart and lung nerves correctly connected, of course... IIRC heart and lung function are usually considered critical for continued function of any body ;)"

        Long time since my biology classes, and I may be WAY off the mark here, but... heart, lungs are partially or fully not under conscious control, the signals don't originate in the central nervous system, but in the autonomous nervous system. I think that is partly the brain, partly the spinal cord, so possibly this is not an issue*. Any neurosurgeons on the forum who can comment?

        *In any case the article says he's already done this successfully on mammals so shouldn't be a problem

      4. Rampant Spaniel

        Re: Is it April 1st?

        Head transplants, or more specifically this research, is not nonsense. It is part of a larger field of research. In isolation the research has limited use, but work is progressing in finding answers to all the issues involved with spinal repair and the associated proceedures that would benefit from it. Consider if this research hasn't been done and we did find a method for repairing spinal damage (which even a jaded old cynic like myself believes will happen and within my lifetime), we would then need to do this research anyway.

        The days of one smart feller sitting down with a pen and fixing an entire problem are mostly long gone. Most problems are solved by being broken into smaller problems, each being worked on by different researchers. Hopefully they are all sucessful and the cumulative efforts solve several large problems.

        This team deserves credit, they took on a project that could have ended their careers just by suggesting they do the research. Hi I want to do head transplants usually sets of the nutter alarms, and we all know how public opinion responds to stuff like this. Not only were they crazy enough to try but it looks like they have figured out an important part of a bigger problem.

    4. PatientOne

      Re: We can't currently repair damaged nerves in humans.

      Yes we can. It's not brilliant but we're improving the technique all the time.

      Currently we can restore some, but not all sensation from badly damaged nerves, and we can transplant nerves, and there is ongoing research into the use of stem cells to mend nerve damage. We know stem cells can repair spinal cord damage, and have helped previously paralysed people walk again, and that was from over 5 years ago. The only issue is that most of this research is restricted, and patients have to go private for the treatment.

  15. Evil Auditor Silver badge

    "hitherto incurable diseases"

    Such as mental illnesses? Any voluntary donors?

  16. bahaelaila7

    cut spinal cord, drain blood from head, introduce heart attack in the body.... then glue the new head.

    yep totally appealing

    wait, why not just cut the head off, duct tape the new head as fast as possible?

    1. bonkers

      Blackadder had a word on this...

      Queenie: Oh come now Lady Farrow, crying isn't going to help your husband now.

      Nursie: No! Ointment! That's what you need when your head's been cut off! That's what I gave your sister Mary when they done her. "There, there" I said, "you'll soon grow a new one.

      Queenie: Shut up Nursie

  17. bahaelaila7

    I don't see the need for that. you can always photoshop face-swap

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hah

    Just a little off the top please. Oops

  19. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    It's hard to appreciate just how much advanced research was done in the 50s, 60s and 70s.

    Implanted neural radio telemetry active brain structure changes. Dr Delgardo (late 50s to early 70s. Still alive).

    Head transplants done in both USA and Soviet Union.

    1st human incubator 1965.

    Cutting edge medical technology but all extremely creepy. the human incubator item really floored me (Life magazine cover). I had thought we were decades away from trying this (and I mean in the future).

    Cautious (very cautious) thumbs up.

  20. Dave Walker 1

    Prescient much?

    Who's read 'I Will Fear No Evil'...

    1. AdamT

      Re: Prescient much?

      indeed

    2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Unhappy

      Re: Prescient much?

      "Who's read 'I Will Fear No Evil'..."

      Well, after I got past my avoidance of any book that refuses to give any description of the plot.

      Very much more "Stranger in a strange land" than "Starship Troopers."

      And of course likely to create a new range of profits for the legal fraternity.

      The downside of this is that it will probably be limited to the very rich.

      Balmer could be leading Microsoft into the next Millennium. Trump could still be hosting The Apprentice while on his 50th wife and Branson could be working his way through the stock of jumpers he had made when he bought the entire years supply of the UK wool industry.

      Yay. We are truly in an age of excitement.

    3. Dave Lawton
      Facepalm

      Re: Prescient much?

      Argh ... my head's spinning, the bolt's come out, you beat me to it :(

  21. Qwelak
    Joke

    They need to be careful or heads will roll

  22. Mage Silver badge
    Gimp

    Curiously

    N.I.C.E. is the organisation maintaining the "Head" in "That Hideous Strength".

    Someone told Lewis he was only criticising Science Fiction because he couldn't write it. Note it's the 3rd volume in a trilogy but readable on its own.

  23. AbortRetryFail

    That Hideous Strength

    That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis (of Narnia fame), published in 1945 mentioned exactly this. Right down to the very sharp knife!

    Life imitates art, and all that.

    1. Charlie van Becelaere

      Re: That Hideous Strength

      And the very sharp knife was wielded by an Italian, a Dr. Filostrato, as I recall.

    2. historymaker118
      Big Brother

      Re: That Hideous Strength

      saw the headline came to the comments ctrl-f 'hideous strength'. Yay more people thought exactly the same thing as I did. I love the cosmic trilogy and this has to be one of my favourite books. The whole book is almost prophetic in the way it describes society, this is just an extension of that.

  24. Purlieu

    Groan

    A whole new meaning to ... giving head

  25. Semaj
    Facepalm

    Shortage

    While this clearly falls into the realm of "cool", I don't really see the point.

    Surely the only way this would benefit anyone is if they could be given a better body than the one they currently have. But don't people tend to die more often from things damaging their bodies rather than just their heads? Using a heart or a lung, which remained undamaged when the previous owner's been killed in a car crash is one thing but this would need an entire undamaged body. I just can't see them having many to hand.

    1. Don Jefe

      Re: Shortage

      Expect a surge in gang related decapitations after they sort out how to sell the bodies.

    2. Grave

      Re: Shortage

      makes you wonder just how far the body modularity goes (and is ultimately even physical brain replaceable, thus making you as a person a virtual entity - and if so, you could live forever, even relive forever, do backups. well live more in a sense of existence, if a terminology of life is tied into biological life).

      ghost in a shell, bodies as a remote access equipment, possibilities limitless :)

      as for shortage, think out of the box, like for example research into cloning bodies, genetic engineering (making ideal bodies, grown without brain for ethical purposes, etc)

      this will have far reaching consequences if it works,

  26. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    A classic Soviet Sci-Fi

    "Professor Dowell's Head" by Alexander Beliayev.

    It's all there, in the book...

  27. Anomalous Cowshed

    So many possibilities one might think of...

    First thing that comes to mind: the researchers in this lab could do with a head transplant, and I hereby volunteer them in the name of science to expedite matters.

  28. Ken 16 Silver badge

    the potential to change the lives of people affected

    "the potential to change the lives of people affected by paralysis or other serious mobility-limiting medical conditions"

    You mean mobility limiting like having your F**KING head cut off?

    I don't see anyone becoming King of France after this treatment.

  29. Gazareth

    Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group

    You know when you've been tang-oed!

    Interesting article, one of the few times I've regretting eating lunch whilst doing so though...

  30. CJR

    Robocop?

    I am in favour of getting a body manufactured, what needs work is the linking of the nerves to receptors in the robot body then the cycling of blood or some other fluid that could possibly be used that is immune to disease, then gaffer tape the head on...hey presto!!!

  31. SYNERGIST
    Big Brother

    How much will a new body cost?

    Give me at least 20 more years, and in a young body! Where do I sign up?

  32. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

    Shudder

    I am reminded of a certain scene in O Lucky Man!

  33. BlackBolt

    Suddenly the ridiculous plot of 'Face-off' isn't quite so ridiculous anymore.

  34. sisk Silver badge

    Well that makes me a liar

    I just told a friend who recently had a heart transplant that she'd undergone the most traumatic sugery known to man.

  35. Mike Moyle Silver badge
    Coat

    Paternity suits...?

    "Yes, your Honor, it WAS my idea to have sex with the woman, but the DNA test shows it was HIS sperm that got her pregnant, so I shouldn't be held responsible!

  36. THECADMAN

    Ahhhhh !!!!!

    Hmmm ... I must remember not to have any head trauma accidents in Wales, ... particularly given the recent change in donor legislation !!

  37. SirDigalot
    Alien

    mars attacks

    predicted the future again!

  38. Mike Flugennock
    WTF?

    They've obviously failed to learn from history

    Not only is the Italian team downplaying the ultimate failure of the 1970 monkey-head transplant experiments, but they also obviously haven't viewed this documentary chronicling the disastrous failure of a similar experiment on a human subject in 1962.

  39. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Happy

    I think Rupert Murdoch has found a solution to the problem of his accession

    He's not going to have one.

    Bad luck for the boy Murdoch of course.

  40. Stretch Armstrong
    Alien

    Stretch Armstrong

    Every head shall be given its own IPv6 address...

  41. Oldfogey
    Boffin

    The Master Mind of Mars

    Ras Thavas strikes again!

  42. mr-tom
    Holmes

    Reconnection

    Canavero added: "The greatest technical hurdle to [a head transplant] is, of course, the reconnection of the donor’s and recipient's spinal cords."

    Well no shit, Sherlock. We got the hang of separating heads from bodies some millennia ago.

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Woo hoo, zaphod beeblebrox here I come....

    Well they do say two heads are better than one..

    Lol

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sounds legit

    Ages ago I worked out a way to keep a donor brain alive for 12 hours at a time by using weak electrical currents through a circulating chilled conductive salt and glucose solution (potassium/sodium mix) combined with near infrared light from a modified thermal lamp which would keep the neurons alive and functioning.

    The head was immersed in a bucket full of the same salt to act as a ground, and the current was reversed

    every so often to reduce destructive electrolysis.

    The thing which messed it up was the buildup of toxins over time and lack of other important nutrients normally provided by the rest of the body.

    Obviously since then the technology has come on quite a bit with heart/lung machines, and you can now buy NIR LEDs tuned to the exact wavelengths needed and they work well when kept at about 3 degrees Celsius by Peltier units.

    To reduce the intensity exposing the brain helps, even drilling small holes through the skull for the LEDs or optical fibres would do the trick.

    Yours, Baron von Frankenstein.

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