Non, ce médecin n’a pas réussi à greffer une tête humaine

L'italien annonce depuis 2013 qu'il sera bientôt capable de greffer une tête humaine. La majorité de ses confrères en doutent fortement.

Le neurochirurgien Sergio Canavero a affirmé avoir réussi « la première greffe d’une tête humaine ». Il s’agissait en réalité d’une greffe sur… Un cadavre.

Le neurochirurgien italien Sergio Canavero est un habitué des coups médiatiques. Sa première déclaration fracassante remonte à fin 2013. Il annonçait alors qu’il serait le premier à greffer une tête humaine sur un corps humain. À l’époque, il pensait y arriver en 2016. Lors d’une conférence tenue en 2015, il maintenait sa promesse, mais la repoussait à 2017. Le 17 novembre dernier, il a annoncé avoir réussi.

Sauf que ce n’est pas le cas, quoi qu’en disent certains médias qui ont relayé son annonce, dont The Telegraph. Oui, le docteur Canavero a réussi une greffe de tête humaine, mais sur un cadavre. Et il a peu de chances d’y parvenir un jour sur un être humain vivant.

Une première annonce puis un appel aux dons

Dès 2013, sa première annonce avait été accueillie avec le plus grand scepticisme par ses confrères. Tout comme en 2015, quand il avait tenu une conférence de plus de deux heures pour expliquer que le secret de l’opération était une lame extrêmement fine pour trancher les fibres nerveuses sans les émousser. Ce jour-là, il avait survolé les problèmes majeurs posés par une telle opération, mais n’avait pas manqué de lancer un appel aux dons, environ 100 millions de dollars.

« Dans toute sa présentation sur la moelle épinière, je pense qu’il y a certaines conclusions intéressantes… mais greffer une tête, il me semble qu’il essaie de brûler beaucoup d’étapes », notait poliment Marc Stevens, un chirurgien orthopédiste américain, interrogé à l’époque. « Tout cela est absurde, non-scientifique, infaisable et ridicule, taclait Art Caplan, un bioéthicien du Centre médical Langone à New York. C’est probablement un coup médiatique pour lever des fonds, ajoutait-il, regrettant que Sergio Canavero donne de faux espoirs aux personnes souffrant de maladie graves.

Valery Spiridonov, un Russe d'une trentaine d'années touché par la maladie de Werdnig-Hoffman, qui se caractérise par une atrophie progressive incurable des muscles, s'est déclaré volontaire pour la greffe imaginée par Sergio Canavero. Photo prise en 2015 lors de la conférence du neurochirurgien.

Valery Spiridonov, un Russe d’une trentaine d’années touché par la maladie de Werdnig-Hoffman, qui se caractérise par une atrophie progressive incurable des muscles, s’est déclaré volontaire pour la greffe imaginée par Sergio Canavero. Photo prise en 2015 lors de la conférence du neurochirurgien.

REUTERS/MAXIM ZMEYEV

Pas de quoi arrêter le docteur italien qui, en 2016, affirmait avoir « greffé avec succès » une tête de singe. Un succès relatif, puisque le pauvre animal n’a jamais repris conscience après la transplantation et a été maintenu en vie une vingtaine d’heures pour des « raisons éthiques », avant d’être finalement déclaré mort. Quand bien même l’animal aurait survécu, il aurait été paralysé à vie puisque sa colonne vertébrale n’avait pas été ressoudée, se rappelle The Guardian.

En mai 2017, il certifiait cette fois avoir réussi à greffer une de tête de rat, ce qui ouvrait selon lui la porte à une greffe humaine. Cette fois, son opération consistait à rajouter des têtes de rongeurs sur d’autres rats vivants et déjà dotés d’une tête. Les têtes greffées avaient survécu quelques heures, mais l’intérêt de l’opération avait été vivement critiquée, cette fois encore, par le reste de la communauté scientifique.

Une « réussite » toute relative

Quant à sa récente greffe de tête humaine « réalisée avec succès », il s’agissait d’une greffe sur un cadavre. « Traitez-moi de perfectionniste si vous voulez, mais je ne pense sincèrement pas que les interventions chirurgicales réalisées sur des patients déjà morts peuvent être qualifiées de ‘réussites’, ironise le neuroscientifique dans le Guardian. Vous pouvez bien souder deux moitiés de voitures et appeler ça un succès, si elle explose quand vous mettez le contact, on ne s’en souviendra pas vraiment de cette manière ».

Si le scientifique britannique reconnaît que l’expérience de Sergio Canavero n’est pas totalement sans intérêt, la reconnexion des nerfs et vaisseaux sanguins ainsi que sa technique de préservation pourraient avoir une valeur scientifique. Mais comme il le rappelle sur son compte Twitter, « ces problèmes ne rentrent probablement même pas dans le top 10 des problèmes les plus importants à résoudre avant une greffe de tête humaine ».

Ce qui n’empêche pas l’italien de présenter comme des progrès révolutionnaires des opérations qui sont, finalement, assez négligeables sur le plan scientifique. « C’est l’équivalent en neurochirurgie de l’équipe qui négocie actuellement le Brexit« , se Dean Burnett. Nous sommes encore très loin de voir un jour quelqu’un se promener avec un corps qui n’est pas le sien.

 

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