sábado, 25 de noviembre de 2017

BioEdge: Cephalosomatic anastomosis forges ahead

BioEdge: Cephalosomatic anastomosis forges ahead


Cephalosomatic anastomosis forges ahead
Ren Xiaoping and Sergio Canavero
Head transplantation is back in the news again. Controversial Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero has claimed at a press conference in Vienna that a team from Harbin Medical University led by Dr Ren Xiaoping has carried out the world's first head transplant (aka Cephalosomatic anastomosis) experiment.

During an 18-hour operation, the surgeons transplanted a head onto a corpse. Dr Canavero says that the Chinese team would soon use this experience to move to a living human paralysed from the neck down.

The announcement was greeted with great scepticism by other scientists. “If someone’s making grand scientific claims but hasn’t provided robust evidence for them, yet they have done a TED talk, alarm bells should be ringing,” wrote Dean Burnett in The Guardian.

A debate was carried on in a special section in the latest issue of AJOB Neuroscience. Bioethicists queued up to attack the plans of Canavero and Ren as unfeasible and unethical. Two bioethicistswere so exasperated by the attention paid to the overhyped and under-documented experiment that they asked: “why are we still talking about this?” Paul Root Wolfe wrote that while a “head transplant” was theoretically defensible, “attempts of Ren and Canavero to rush this primitive technology to a first-in-human trial is ethically indefensible and irresponsible.”

But more interesting is Canavero and Ren’s defence of their project, which they call – provocatively -- HEAVEN. They argue strongly that it is feasible and they point out three promising uses for it: life extension, gender reassignment, and cosmetic body swaps.

They hint that they have received many emails from desperate transsexuals who are interested in head transplants. “Imagine the parents of the brain dead body donor who are racked with sorrow and despair for their loss but are told that once the new being will start reproducing, his or her offspring will actually be the donor's parents’ descendants!”

The two neurosurgeons are defiant: “Yes, we forced the debate on the academe. But the future of hopeless people is in the balance. We would have dared no less.”

They also dismiss bioethics and bioethicists: “bioethics is mere opinion, more or less (dis)informed, at times with a heavy political streak... that hinges on supposed ‘authorities’ as ‘polestars’ of the present debate.”

And rather than modifying their ambitions in the face of nearly unanimous criticism, they reveal that Canavero has even more daring plans. He is making plans for brain transplantation. This project’s name is .... BRAVE


Saturday, November 25, 2017

Good scientists have to be curious, tenacious, creative, intuitive and analytical. And it helps if they are humble, as well. At least that is my impression after reading about the Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero (see below.)

Canavero is the latest figure in a long queue of talented scientists led astray just in the last couple of years by the glamour of celebrity. Dr Canavero would no doubt deny this, but the scientific community is very sceptical of his project to transplant living heads onto living bodies. And although he has not had a single success in this project, he is already dreaming of transplanting brains.

Celebrity and science can make a toxic mix. There is thoracic surgeon Paolo Macchiarini, another Italian, whose work on artificial tracheas was hyped as life-saving, but turned out to be fraudulent.

Dutch social psychologist Diederik Stapel was renowned for his controversial research. He had faked the results of his experiments and even his PhD. Michael LaCour made headlines for his surveys about changing minds about gay marriage. He never carried out the surveys.

Japanese stem cell scientist Haruko Obokata found an incredibly simple method for creating pluripotent stem cells. And in fact, it was incredible.

What makes extremely talented and creative researchers choose the path of a circus performer rather than a dedicated scholar? Everyone has a different story, but perhaps the ancient Anglo-French word vaynglorie (vainglory) expresses it best. Are there classes for post-graduate students in humility? Perhaps there ought to be.

Michael Cook
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