Earlier this year Italian neuroscientist Sergio Canavero ( Also called Dr. Frankenstein) shocked the world when he announced he would perform the world’s first human head transplant. Recently Dr. Sergio Canavero announced the procedure is scheduled for December 2017, and he has recruited a head surgeon (pun intended) to lead the controversial procedure.
This operation may sound like something out of a horror movie, but one man is hoping it will improve his quality of life. The medical community has its concerns. For one, Canavero would have to attach millions of tiny nerves, a problem he says he’s solved by using a fusogen (sealant) comprised of polyethylene glycol (PEG).
This gel substance works like a glue. It’s nothing new: PEG is used in a variety of biological and commercial applications, such as laxatives and skin cream. In his research paper, Canavero explains:
…a sufficient number of axonal proximal stumps get fused with the distal counterparts in such a way to ensure appropriate electrophysio-logical conduction, likely the result of tight axonal packing. This number is likely low (10–15%), and yet enough for recovery, reflecting the potential for substantial plasticity in the injured
This is an observation by Dr. Canavero, not an explanation. His work, often, reads like that. He reports results without overcoming the obstacles we have in understanding how he arrived there. Other scientists are less kind, calling him an outright provocateur of the impossible. He’s been called crazy by the media.
Human Head Transplant Full Video On Youtube
“According to Canavero’s calculations, if everything goes to plan, two years is the time frame needed to verify all scientific calculations and plan the procedure’s details,” Spiridonov told CEN. “It isn’t a race. No doubt, the surgery will be done once the doctor and the experts are 99 percent sure of its success.”
Head Transplant To Be Performed On – Valery Spiridonov
A 30-year-old Russian man, Valery Spiridonov, volunteered for the procedure in the hope of living a more normal life. The computer scientist suffers from a rare motor neuron disease known as Werdnig-Hoffmann Disease. The disease causes motor neurons – the nerve cells responsible for sending signals from the central nervous system to your muscles – to deteriorate, which leads to muscle atrophy and in severe cases, difficulty swallowing and breathing. Currently there is no treatment for this disease.
As a lifelong sufferer of the rare genetic Werdnig-Hoffman muscle wasting disease, he says he wants the chance of a new body before he dies. “When I realized that I could participate in something really big and important, I had no doubt left in my mind and started to work in this direction,” Spiridonov, a Russian computer scientist, told Central European News (CEN). “The only thing I feel is the sense of pleasant impatience, like I have been preparing for something important all my life and it is starting to happen.”
As with any surgery, this procedure has many risks and uncertainties. Will the doctors be able to reconnect the spinal cord? Will the head reject the new body? While advances in medicine reduce the risk of rejection, the surgery is not a guaranteed success as no doctor has ever successfully reconnected a spinal cord. Spiridonov is well aware of the risks and is determined to go through with the procedure.
Human Head Transplant Will Happen in CHINA
Canavero will be teaming up with Xiaoping Ren, a neurosurgeon from China’s Harbin Medical University. Ren is no stranger to head transplants as he has performed the procedure on 1,000 different mice. Following a 10-hour procedure, the mice were able to breathe, drink, and even see. Unfortunately, none of the mice survived for longer than a few minutes.
Ren has been operating on mice for a only few years; however, the first successful head transplant actually occurred nearly 50 years ago. In 1970 Dr Robert White, a surgeon at Case Western Reserve’s School of Medicine, successfully transferred a rhesus monkey head to a new body. Following the procedure, the monkey survived on life support for a total of nine days before the head ultimately rejected the new body. As the spinal cord could not be reconnected the monkey body was paralyzed below the transplanted head.
The duo will spend the next two years prepping for the grueling 36-hour surgery. After cleanly severing the spinal cord – arguably the most important part of the procedure – the head will be transferred to the donor body. Then comes the really tricky part: reconnecting the spinal cord. Canavero’s technique will be to use polyethylene glycol – a compound known for its ability to fuse fatty cell membranes. Ren is expected to test Canavero’s technique in mice and monkeys later this year.
China has pledged not to use the organs of executed prisoners, but experts have voiced scepticism about the plan, arguing that organs will continue to be harvested from inmates but that they will now be classified as “donations”. China banned trading in human organs in 2007, but demand for transplants far exceeds supply in the country of 1.37 billion people, opening the door to forced donations and illegal sales. Organ donations are not widespread as many Chinese believe they will be reincarnated after death and therefore feel the need to keep a complete body.
Many medical professionals do not embrace this procedure, describing it as outlandish and impossible. While surviving such a complicated and intricate surgery is highly unlikely, it could help restore independence for the severely disabled. And some people, like Spiridonov, feel it’s worth the risk.
Here are a few of the reasons head transplants aren’t going to take place in 2017, or likely anytime in the next few decades.
1. Heads can’t stay alive on their own.In any head transplant, the donor organ (the one that’s been taken from a donor’s body) has to be kept alive until it can be placed into the recipient’s body. As soon as an organ gets removed from a body, it begins to die.For things like heart or kidney transplants, doctors cool the organ to keep it viable for as long as possible. Cooling the organ helps reduce the amount of energy its cells need to stay alive. Doctors accomplish this by bathing the organ in a solution of cold salt water (saline). This process preserves kidneys for 48 hours, for example, livers for 24 hours, and hearts for about 5-10 hours. But a head would be a far more difficult process.
2. A head isn’t just an isolated organ. It’s the heaviest and one of the most complex parts of the body — it houses not just your brain but your eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and skin, as well as two separate gland systems: the pituitary, which controls the hormones that circulate throughout the body, and the salivary, which are responsible for producing saliva. More than a century of disturbing animal research has shown that at the moment of decapitation, blood pressure in the head drops dramatically. The resulting loss of fresh blood and oxygen pushes the brain into a coma, soon followed by death. Which brings us to the next problem.
3. The immune system has to be coaxed into accepting a foreign head. As with any transplant, one of the main issues facing patients is that of their own body: if the immune system flags the foreign organ (or organs, in this case) as foreign, it can unleash a full scale attack. What happens is that the immune system of the person receiving the new organ detects immune-triggering substances, called antigens, on the cells of the new organ that don’t match the substances that would be on a non-foreign organ. This is why almost all transplant patients take immune-suppressing drugs after their procedure. Because the head is so complex and includes so many organs, the risk of rejection is much higher.
4. The Head Transplant surgery has to happen in under an hour. In a 1970s experiment that would never be allowed today, neurosurgeon Robert White transplanted the head of a monkey onto the body of a donor monkey. He maintained the monkey bodies by cooling them to about 59 degrees Fahrenheit for the duration of the procedure. The monkey with the transplanted head survived until the immune system rejected the head 8 days after the surgery, and the monkey died. One big catch, though: the whole thing has to be done in under an hour, according to White’s experiments and Canavero’s paper. Canavero notes in his paper that both of the heads would have to be removed from their bodies at the same time.
5. Working swiftly, the surgeons would have to re-attach the head of the person they want to keep alive to the circulatory system of the donor’s body while both bodies are under total cardiac arrest. All of this would happen in less than 60 minutes. Canavero has also come under some fire recently for allegations that his claims are linked with a marketing ploy for video game. Canavero told Business Insider last week that he has zero involvement with the game and has never heard of the game’s producer or his company.
Spinal cords are very tricky to fuse — it’s never been done before. In order for the preserved head to be able to communicate with and control its new body, the spinal cord and the brain must be seamlessly connected, or fused. This didn’t happen with the monkey transplant. While the monkey who’s head was transplanted onto a donor body was able to see, move its eyes, and eat, it was paralysed from the neck down. “The greatest technical hurdle” to a head transplant, Canavero writes in his paper, “is of course the reconnection of the donor’s (D)’s and recipients (R)’s spinal cords. It is my contention that the technology only now exists for such linkage.” Canevero’s technology is “a special biological glue,” he said in a recent TED talk, called polyethylene glycol.
6. In the 1930s and 40s, some experimental surgeons have used this material, which is a type of plastic, to fuse the spinal cords of dogs, but these experiments typically involved attaching a foreign head to the complete body of a dog (artificially giving it two heads), not replacing one dog’s head with that of another. These procedures were also done in less than an hour. After the procedure, one of Canavero’s patients would be placed in a coma for up to a month to allow the spinal cords to fuse. Otherwise, the “spaghetti” (as he calls it) that makes up the spinal cord could become gnarled or twisted. But such a long coma is a potential problem as well, University of California, Davis professor of neurosurgery Harry Goldsmith told Popular Science, because medically-induced comas often result in infection, blood clots, and reduced brain activity.
7. The Head Transplant has to work in animal trials before being done in humans. Before head transplantation moves into trials in people, all of these problems have to be addressed in animal trials. And there are hurdles to getting animal experiments approved that involve so much cruelty. The bar for approving any such procedure, then, would have to involve proving that it is both helpful and necessary. So far, there’s no evidence that any of this is happening yet, which means any type of surgery approaching this level of risk is decades off, at the very least.
What happens if Head Transplant is a SUCCESS?
The other result, a successful human head-transplant, seems improbable; yet it must be considered. The ramifications of being able to reconnect spinal tissue go far beyond solving paralysis: they’re the first step to living forever.
But there are numerous problems with this procedure. It presents a tapestry of difficulty that the greatest of medical minds — so far — haven’t come close to overcoming. Probably because his work is the stuff of fantasy made with whimsical predictions, but perhaps our modern Dr. Frankenstein has unlocked the secrets and we’ll all be believers soon.
The scientific community seems to be largely ignoring Dr. Canavero, and when they aren’t, they certainly don’t have many kind things to say. He’s a pseudo-scientist, some have said – others have pointed out that what he’s talking about simply can’t be done yet.
The picture being painted, of a mad scientist, doesn’t take many brush strokes. His seemingly endless amount of confidence in his work piques the interest, but at the same time it puts off rational conversation.
In the improbable event that he were to pull off his claims; the world would be stunned. We’d have to be; this is as big as time-travel, or proof of intelligent life beyond our planet. Science would have to take him seriously if he somehow raised the funding, found the right place, and pulled off the first human head-transplant.
It would be hailed miraculous
The world would pay attention to his thoughts on frozen brains, and other fancies of science fiction. The quack would become the authority! He’d be a leading voice in the medical and science communities.
Whether he’s playing God or not seems to be a question we can only answer if he succeeds. Failure, though likely, would be far less interesting. The mystery surrounding Dr. Canavero will surely fade once he becomes another obscure dreamer whose rhetoric far exceeded his reach.
Unless he succeeds, in which case we won’t be able to say ‘we called it’ –but at least we considered it.
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