Update: Late last year we brought you word that maverick neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero was looking to carry out the world's first successful human head transplant. Funded by the Chinese, he set a date of December 2017. And he's been making progress...
Italian surgeon Sergio Canavero claims to have successfully transplanted the head of one monkey onto the body of another. Sort of.
Speaking to New Scientist about his preparations for the human operation, Canavero claims that his colleague Xiaoping Ren and researchers at Harbin Medical University, China, have already partially performed the procedure, which is set to be undertaken in 2017, on a monkey.
The head of the monkey was removed from its body, before having its blood supply successfully reattached to a new body. Ren and his team didn't attempt to reconnect the spinal column (which seems like a bit of a cheat to us).
"The monkey fully survived the procedure without any neurological injury of whatever kind," said Canavero, stating it was kept alive for 20 hours after the procedure for 'ethical reasons'.
Alongside such tests on monkeys, Canavero and his team have also been experimenting with severing and reconnecting the spinal cords of mice, and working on human cadavers.
Proof of the experiment's success is yet to be published, with journals Surgery and CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics set to lay out the findings in full in coming months.
A medical team of Chinese and Italian delegates, led by Ren Xiaoping and Sergio Canavero, will carry out the $11 million procedure by December 2017 - so long as the team's preparations don't meet any unexpected complications. Of which we assume there could be lots. Lots and lots.
Earlier this year Russian-born Valery Spiridonov volunteered himself for the operation. The 30-year-old computer scientist suffers from Werdnig-Hoffmann disease - a form of spinal muscular atrophy which slowly wastes away the body's muscular systems until the patient loses the ability to swallow, blink and even breathe.
"A lot of media have been saying we will definitely attempt the surgery by 2017, but that's only if every step before that proceeds smoothly," Ren told AFP.
Amongst the potential complications is finding a body donor for the operation: the 36-hour procedure will see the medical team lower Spiridonov's body temperature to delay the effects of oxygen depletion, before removing his head and that of the donor. Spiridonov's head would then be affixed to the donor body with "glue and stitches" - though we're guessing/hoping it's a little more technical than it sounds.
Following the operation, Spiridinov will be placed in a month-long coma and injected with a cocktail of drugs that will hopefully stop the body and head from rejecting each other.
There's no word on where the donor body will be coming from, nor how the team will go about making its selection: it's not like they can find a suitable candidate and keep them "on ice" for the next two years, so they'll either have to find someone who fits the bill who happens to have a terminal brain condition, or - more worryingly - line up a candidate from China's death row.
Even if the operation is a success, Spiridinov's condition might not improve, with some experts describing his resulting state as being "a lot worse than death".