Surgeon Carries Out Monkey Head Transplant in Harbin

By Bridget O'Donnell, January 22, 2016

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Ready for the Year of the Monkey, an Italian surgeon claims he's carried out a successful monkey head transplant in Harbin.

Professor Sergio Canavero, Director of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group, told The New Scientist earlier this week that he had successfully performed the operation with a team of researchers from China and South Korea led by Xiaoping Ren at Harbin Medical University.

According to Canavero, the team connected the blood supply between the head and the new body to prove that the animal could survive the procedure without suffering from any neurological injuries. But they did not join the spinal cord as it would have caused the monkey to be completely paralyzed. For ethical reasons, they kept the animal alive for 20 hours after the operation.

While New Scientist was unable to confirm any other details from the procedure, Canavero's team sent along a photo to prove that the procedure was successful. (Warning: the photo is graphic — click the image below to see it in full).

First Monkey Head Transplant Performed in Harbin

But some in the medical community are skeptical of Canavero's claims, saying that it's odd for a surgeon to go public with results without publishing the papers first. “It’s science through public relations,” Arthur Caplan, bioethicist at New York University School of Medicine, told The New Scientist. “When it gets published in a peer-reviewed journal I’ll be interested. I think the rest of it is BS.”

The transplant experiment will be reported in a series of seven papers, which are due to be published in the journals Surgery and CNS Neuroscience and Therapeutics later this year.

In a press release ahead of their publication, the team said that they have begun studies on humans, and that they plan to carry out the first human head transplant by the end of 2017. Canavero has already sought funds to carry out a head transplant on 31-year-old Russian Valery Spriridonov, who has a genetic muscle-wasting disease. He reportedly intends to make a plea to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to fund the operation. 

This is not the first time a monkey head transplant has been carried out — Dr. Robert White pioneered the groundbreaking procedure in the 1970s, much to the dismay of animal rights activists.

[Top image via imgarcade]

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