Sergio Canavero of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group in Italy says it’s possible to carry out a head transplant and the proposal was presented at the annual conference of the American Academy of Neurological and Orthopedic Surgeons in Annapolis, Maryland.
The first attempt at a head transplant was carried out on a dog by Soviet surgeon Vladimir Demikhov in 1954. A puppy’s head and forelegs were transplanted onto the back of a larger dog. Demikhov conducted several further attempts but the dogs only survived between two and six days.
The first successful head transplant, in which one head was replaced by another, was carried out in 1970. A team led by Robert White at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio, transplanted the head of one monkey onto the body of another. They didn’t attempt to join the spinal cords, though, so the monkey couldn’t move its body, but it was able to breathe with artificial assistance. The monkey lived for nine days until its immune system rejected the head. Although few head transplants have been carried out since, many of the surgical procedures involved have progressed. “I think we are now at a point when the technical aspects are all feasible,” says Canavero.
Canavero intends to use brain-dead organ donors to test the technique and says he could be ready to attempt the operation by 2017. Not surprisingly, there are a number of rather large hurdles he must clear before he will be close to even trying it.
The whole idea seems crazy and most people would not openly agree to carrying out the procedure but Canavero says he has volunteers who are ready to be used. One of them, a Russian man called Valery Spiridonov.
To fix the spinal cords the surgeon intends to use a chemical called polyethylene glycol, which has been shown to prompt the growth of spinal cord nerves in animals. Whether this is enough to restore motor function between a severed head and a new body is a completely open question and most experts were surprised about the whole procedure.
Canavero explains that the procedure can not be called body transplant because the head transplant moniker is partly a hangover from monkey and dog experiments of the last century. This was how the surgeons that carried out those experiments referred to the procedure, and it stuck. Technically, calling it a body transplant would be more accurate because the head is representative of the person receiving the new body part. But it’s not a whole body transplant. That term is usually used to describe a procedure in which the brain of one organism is transplanted into the body – and skull – of another.
The surgeon further gave the difference between the head and brain transplant. A brain transplant would involve removing the brain from the skull and placing it in a donor skull. It is more difficult than a head transplant because of the complex surgery to separate the brain and blood supply without damaging delicate tissue. The proposed technique requires a healthy human head and brain. It is not yet known whether it is possible to “defrost” a cryogenically frozen head and resurrect healthy brain tissue.
The transplant can benefit the recipient in many ways hence if the recipient head is older than the donor body, they may get a rejuvenating boost. Infusions of young blood can raise physical endurance and cognitive function in older animals. reports NewScientist.