Head Transplant

Italian surgeon Sergio Canavero made a claim in 2013 that, by 2017, he’d be ready and able to perform the first ever successful human head transplant. This was later reconfirmed in 2015 when his proposed subject, Valery Spiridonov, a Russian computer scientist suffering from a rare degenerative muscle disease, was unveiled – but until this week, the whole procedure felt a lot like an impossibility.

Head Transplant

Ahead of the Curve?

Earlier this week, Canavero’s work towards the human head transplant made serious headway (sorry…), as he and his team successfully performed a head transplant on a monkey. Though the monkey was only kept alive for 20 hours after he awoke for ethical reasons, the results of this and several other animal experiments (including the experiment on mice seen in the video below) have boosted the team’s confidence with proceeding to the ultimate transplant: that of a human head.

The head transplant is not a new idea; in fact, it isn’t even a new practice. In 1954, Russian surgeon Vladimir Demikhov carried out a head transplant procedure on a dog: a puppy’s head and forelegs were placed on the body of a larger dog, but the dogs only survived six days at most following the truly bizarre transplant.

Then, in 1970, an American team led by Robert White performed a head transplant on a monkey, but unlike Canavero’s successful procedure this week, the monkey’s head was rejected by the body’s immune system. No documented procedures have been carried out since the 70s, but Canavero believes that science has now reached a technical stage advanced enough to really press forward with the first human head transplant. And, after his success with the monkey head transplant this week, his ‘mad scientist’ plan is actually starting to find more and more backers.

Head Transplant

Is There Any Body Willing to Be the Test Subject?

Aside from Spiridonov, many other people have stepped forward saying they’d willingly partake in such a procedure too, desperate to be given a new or ‘better’ body than the one they were born with. In this modern world where having the ‘perfect body’ is so high on people’s priority lists, could a successful head transplant in 2017 make for an eventual waiting list for a whole new wave of ‘cosmetic surgeries’ like this in the future?

Canavero has estimated that the recipient of the surgery would be able to move and feel their face immediately, and would retain the same voice and personality. Walking and more complex bodily controls and movements would no doubt require physiotherapy, he predicts, but only for around a year whilst the brain familiarises itself with its new vehicle.

Ethics aside – Canavero is currently seeking out a country that will approve his head transplant procedure – the mere thought of such advanced surgery is one that is splitting people, both figuratively and literally.

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