Human head transplant – grafting one person’s head on another’s body has never been done on humans but has been done on animals in labs. While these transplants have not been successful on lab animals, Dr. Sergio Canavoro, a member of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group, believes with present technology success is inevitable.
A procedure carried out in 1970 by Dr. Robert White, entailed transplanting the head of one monkey onto the body of another. The problem encountered at this time was the inability to connect the spinal cord to the body, which left the monkey paralyzed from the point of the transplant. The monkey died eight days later.
Dr. Sergio Canavero believes recent advancements in re-connecting spinal cords that are surgically severed, gives hope that this procedure will work in humans.
According to Canavero’s paper, “The greatest technical hurdle to a head transplant is of course the reconnection of the donor’s and recipient’s spinal cords. It is my contention that the technology only now exists for such linkage.”
The method outlined in Canavero’s paper follows the procedure used by Dr, White in which he successfully transplanted the head of a rhesus monkey onto the body of another rhesus monkey in 1970. This procedure requires both the donor and recipient in the same operating room and that the donor head is maintained at a cool temperature. The heads must be removed concurrently. The recipient head must be reconnected to the donor body within an hour, the donor body must be kept cool and cardiac arrest must be induced.
Once the head and body are connected the heart can be restarted and other vital systems reconnected including the spinal cord.
While Canavero is very passionate about this procedure, the connection of a spinal cord from the head of one person to the body of another has never been done, even in animals. So the premise in his paper is based on speculation and some will argue this is a place medical science should not go.
What has been done in labs, is the severing and reconnection of spinal cords in the same animal, which has seen limited success in the past.
Canavero suggests that a key factor in reconnecting the spinal cord of the recipient head and donor body is the “clean cut” used when disconnecting them.
“It is this “clean cut” which is the key to spinal cord fusion, in that it allows proximally severed axons to be ‘fused’ with their distal counterparts.”
“This is, of course, totally different from what happens in clinical spinal cord injury, where gross damage and scarring hinder regeneration,” Canavero wrote.
Canavero’s procedure is called Heaven surgery (head anastomosis venture). He points out that the surgery would create a “chimera,” an individual with diverse genetic composition. He also notes that the patient’s offspring would only carry the genetic traits of the donor body.
Aside from the ethical issues this would certainly bring to the table, Canavero states that it could possibly bring hope to those who suffer from spinal cord injuries and muscular dystrophy and other diseases.
Again, head transplants is this good or bad science?
By: Veverly Edwards