Coming Soon: Human Head Transplants?

 

Neither fantasy nor sci-fi, but advanced surgery: human head transplants may be in our near future

Neither fantasy nor sci-fi, but advanced surgery: human head transplants may be in our near future.

 

The year 2017 may be the year we see the first human head transplant. Dr. Sergio Canavero, a neuroscientist with the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group in Italy, believes he has mastered the technique to do so and plans to attempt the surgery in two years. He will present his plans at the annual conference of The American Academy of Neurological and Orthopedic Surgeons in Annapolis, Maryland, this June.

This is neither fantasy nor science fiction, but advanced surgery, and if successful, head transplantation surgery could be used to treat many severe health maladies including muscular dystrophy, quadriplegia (paralysis from the neck down), widespread organ failure, and cancer.

Named project Heaven, the surgery would work like this: A person suffering from an incurable and/or degenerative condition but has a healthy and functioning head and brain would be the recipient. A person who has been declared brain-dead but still has a healthy and functioning body would be the donor. Both bodies would be cooled to conserve oxygen. Then blood vessels from the head and its new body would be connected, with spinal cords neatly cut and fused using a special glue that stimulates cell membranes to join together. Only 10% – 20% of neurons (nerve cells) are expected to fuse, but Canavero says the person undergoing the procedure should be able to move their facial muscles, use their own voices, and walk entirely on their own after a year of physical therapy.

Canavero claims to have a stack of emails and letters from people wanting the procedure.   Some persons commented on Reddit that they would be willing to donate their heads.

A 30-year old Russian computer scientist, Valery Spiridonov, has been selected from volunteers as the first patient for the procedure. “My decision is final and I do not plan to change my mind,” he said, adding, “With every year my state is getting worse.”  He is battling a rare genetic disease that gradually destroys muscle function.

Dr. Harry Goldsmith, a clinical professor of neurological surgery at the University of California, Davis said, “This is such an overwhelming project, the possibility of it happening is very unlikely. I don’t believe it will ever work.” Dr. Jerry Silver, Case Western Reserve University neurologist, said “This is pure and utter fantasy in my opinion…This is bad science, this should never happen.”

Canavero intends to assemble a team of other specialists who study head transplants to join him. “I think we are now at a point when the technical aspects are all feasible”, he said. He would like to perform the surgery in the U.S. or Europe. However, if he does not get the needed approval he will look to perform the surgery in China, increasing his timeline to three years – 2018.

 

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