Newswise — Winner of the Vesalius Award, Michael Bohl, MD, presented his research, Cheating Death: A Neurosurgical History of Human Resuscitation, Reanimation, and the Pursuit of Immortality, during the 2017 American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS) Annual Scientific Meeting.


For millennia, adventurers searched for the mythical Fountain of Youth in hopes of achieving immortality. The late European Renaissance saw the emergence of a more practical method for pursuing longevity: evidence-based medicine. This historical analysis details the last 500 years of physician-led efforts to cheat death, and specifically, the neurosurgeon’s role in the scientific and literary canons of human immortality. 


Case reports of hypothermic patients surviving typically fatal circumstances prompted early surgical pioneers, such as John Hunter, to perform the first methodical experiments on human resuscitation. His work with hypothermia and electrical stimulation interested The Royal Humane Society, which years later sponsored an infamous attempt by Giovanni Aldini to reanimate the body of an executed criminal before a crowd of London’s social elite. Attending this reanimation was William Godwin, whose descriptions of this event inspired his daughter, Mary Shelley, to write Frankenstein. Temple Fay introduced modern medicine to the neuro-protective power of hypothermia. Although his work was derailed by Nazi physicians at the Dachau concentration camp, he successfully inspired a new generation of neurosurgeons, such as R.J. White. Under hypothermic cerebrovascular arrest, R.J. White successfully performed the first primate head transplant, catching the attention of Russian scientists who were hoping to achieve a method for extending life indefinitely via head transplantation. These efforts coincided and prompted the release of numerous literary and visual works depicting neurosurgeons as mad-scientists and inspired Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero to plan the first human head transplant for 2017.


Author Block: Tyler Steed, MD/PhD; Evgenii  Belykh, MD; Nilkolay Martirosyan, MD, PhD; and Mark Preul, MD


Disclosure: The author reported no conflicts of interest.


Media Representatives: The 2017 AANS Annual Scientific Meeting press section will include releases on highlighted scientific research, AANS officers and award winners, Neurosurgery Awareness Month and other relevant information about the 2017 program. Releases will be posted under the “Media” area on the 2017 AANS Annual Scientific Meeting website. If you have interest in a topic related to neurosurgery or would like to interview a neurosurgeon — either onsite or via telephone — during the event, please contact Alice Kelsey, AANS associate executive director, via email at [email protected].


About the 2017 AANS Annual Scientific Meeting: Attended by neurosurgeons, neurosurgical residents, medical students, neuroscience nurses, clinical specialists, physician assistants, allied health professionals and other medical professionals, the AANS Annual Scientific Meeting is the largest gathering of neurosurgeons in the nation, with an emphasis on the field’s latest research and technological advances. The scientific presentations accepted for the 2017 event will represent cutting-edge examples of the incredible developments taking place within the field of neurosurgery. Find additional information about the 2017 AANS Annual Scientific Meeting and the meeting program here.


Founded in 1931 as the Harvey Cushing Society, the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS) is a scientific and educational association with more than 10,000 members worldwide. The AANS is dedicated to advancing the specialty of neurological surgery in order to provide the highest quality of neurosurgical care to the public. Fellows of the AANS are board-certified by the American Board of Neurological Surgery, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada or the Mexican Council of Neurological Surgery, A.C. Neurosurgery is the medical specialty concerned with the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of disorders that affect the spinal column, spinal cord, brain, nervous system and peripheral nerves.


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