Head Transplant Research in the Works

Research Under way for Head Transplant
The project, code-named HEAVEN/GEMINI -is set to carry out the first head transplant, or is it a body-transplant(?) under research, and in the works  for sometime within the next two years.  Though they have named it a ‘head transplant’ many argue that, since the person undergoing the surgery would receive the body of the donor and not their head, then it is more correct to refer to it as a ‘body transplant.’  Hmmm?  I wonder what happens to the patient’s psychological ‘body image?’

According to Dr. Sergio Canavero, the Italian neuroscientist and functional neurosurgeon who outlined this project, the procedure would take “100 surgeons, 36 hours to complete, and would cost around $12.6 million.” Pocket change for anyone really.  Apparently the transplant would be recommended for patients with muscular dystrophy and similar bodily disorders, though admittedly, donors would be difficult to find.  There is some concern that ‘young healthy bodies’ would become targeted by the wealthy and sold on the black market.  If you’ve got a hot body, watch out!

Obviously the most difficult part of the procedure is reattaching the spinal cord in the new body.  In 1970 an operation to attach a new head was attempted with two monkeys, though failure to reattached the severed spinal cord correctly led to paralysis and death of the monkey with the new body after several days.  Dr. Canavero assures us that the surgery will work if several main axons, nerves which relay information to different neurons, can be fused.

The greatest technical hurdle to such endeavor 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.

Since, according to medical science, the human brain can only survive for an hour without oxygen before brain damage occurs, the head would be placed ‘in cooler temperatures’, or rather, in hypothermia mode – as they call it – for 45 minutes. This 45 minutes at around 12 degrees Celsius is referred to as ‘The HEAVEN process.’  And wouldn’t it be though?  Through this method it is believed that no neurological damage would occur and the brain would still function optimally by the time it was attached to the new body – within the hour window.  Hopefully the floating head remains ‘in heaven’ and not aware of this fairly weird stage of the procedure.

The GEMINI part of the process consists of severing the spinal cord with an extremely sharp and fine blade so as to make reattachment easier.  I guess something like cutting an extension cord just right so as to get the longer cord wound in without shorting out.  The doctor explains: “what is equally important is that the motorneuronal pools, responsible for the contraction of muscle fibers and skeletal muscle, remain fully intact so they can be engaged by spinal cord stimulation.” Apparently this technique has proven effective for “motor control in patients with spinal injuries.”

It is foreseen that this procedure could extend certain patients lives for a very long time, though there is extreme risk in the surgery itself.  The transplantation of a human head, or would that be the transplantation of a human body(?) would definitely be very complex, though the research is in the works.  Some say it is just bad science, like Dr. Jerry Silver who was present that day in 1970 when the monkey head was attempting transplant.  He states:

I remember that the head would wake up, the facial expressions looked like terrible pain and confusion and anxiety in the animal. The head will stay alive, but not very long. When doctors attempted to feed the re-connected head, the food fell to the floor.  It was just awful. I don’t think it should ever be done again.

Apparently it is necessary to induce cardiac arrest throughout the procedure, with the “host body’s heart restarted upon successful connection.” In June the procedure was successful on a couple of rats, though Silver thinks that is laughably far away from being able to replicate the same success on humans.  What do you think?  Would you trust the research and go for a head/body transplant?  If so, who’s body would you choose?

Written by: Stasia Bliss

Sources: Medical News Today; CBS News; Washington times

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