Have you ever thought about the possibility of a human head transplant? According to ABC News, Dr. Sergio Canavero, a surgeon and director of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group, Turin, Italy says it’s possible due to advances in technology.
The reason for a head transplant would be to help patients suffering from a terminal disease, but whose head and brain are healthy. The process would involve the removal of the head of a patient (recipient) suffering from a terminal disease, but with a healthy head and brain and attaching the head to the headless body of a donor
According to Canavero’s paper and results from other experiments, the head transplant would be expected to be done within an hour because the head and body could die if both stay unattached for too long, Businessinsider reported. To have a clean-cut of the head, the spinal cords would be cut with an ultra-sharp blade. A clean-cut would enable seamless fusion of both spinal cords. The head would be preserved at a very low temperature between 10-15°C and the immune system suppressed to prevent transplant rejection according to The Conversation.
In 1970, Robert White a surgeon at Western Reserve Medical Center transplanted the head of a monkey to the body of another monkey. The monkey with the new head transplant was able to eat, see and smell but was paralyzed from the neck down because doctors could not connect the spinal cords of the recipient and donor monkeys. The monkey only survived for about 10 days on a ventilator before it died
In 2015 Dr. Sergio Canavero said the 1970 monkey head transplant was not completely successful because they lacked the technology to connect the spinal cords of the donor and recipient monkeys. He then proposed to carry out a human head transplant with the use of a very sharp diamond blade to cut off the spinal cords and the use of polyethylene glycol, a type of polymer, to reconnect the spinal cords together. He said after the transplant the recipient would be placed in an induced coma to allow the spinal cord to fuse so that it will not twist or damage and for the head to accept the donor’s body.In 2015, Valery Spiridonov who was suffering from muscle wasting Werdnig-Hoffmann disease, a disease that manifests by slowly paralyzing the patient from neck to toe, volunteered as a recipient of the head transplant. Valery had no other choice because his doctors assumed he had about 5 years to live before the disease got to the next stage where it will affect the nervous system towards the brain according to Historyofyesterday. The cost of the head transplant was put at about 15 million US dollars and the transplant was scheduled to take place in December 2017.However, before such a transplant would be allowed to be performed on humans, it has to be successfully done on animals. However, in modern medicine, it would be difficult to get approval to perform such a cruel and complex experiment on animals let alone humans where the chances of survival are very slim. Also, the benefits of such an experiment have to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt to get an approval
After Dr. Canavero made his plan to carry out a head transplant public, the WNA (World Medicine Association) and other neurosurgeons around the world criticized his plan and described it as insane. They gave several reasons why the planned transplant would never work. The Medical school kept threatening him that if he went ahead with the transplant it would fail and he would lose his right to perform brain surgery or any form of surgery.
Due to many constraints the surgery which was fixed to be carried out in December 2017 could no longer take place. In June 2017 Spiridonov said his dream of having a head transplant was over. Doctor Canavero allegedly moved to China to work with a Chinese patient. In December 2018 Spiridonov revealed that he has a baby with a woman he got married to the previous year. Many had thought he would not be able to have a baby of his own because of his condition.It may surprise you to know that Dr. Canavero is not the only one researching on the possibility of a human head transplant. There are researchers in different parts of the world. Although it may appear impossible now, in the future with more advances in technology it could be possible.