We have read it in story books, we have seen it in movies, but now it’s getting into reality. 2017 will witness the first ever human head transplant in the history of mankind. Thus far, the medical science has seen recent breakthrough in organ transplant and growing a stem cell into a fully functional organ. But now, the head transplant is the next expected breakthrough in medical science history.
Head transplant means detaching the head from a living body and fusing it with another body with functioning organs. Research in this area started in 1908, after Charles Claude Guthrie successfully grafted a dog’s head on another’s neck. In 1959, China claimed that they successfully transplanted a dogs head, twice. Similar experiments were conducted on monkeys and rats in the United States and Japan.
In 2015, Dr. Sergio Canavero, an Italian Neurosurgeon said that head human head transplant is possible. He said he is doing the research on this field for the past 30 years and that the procedure known as GEMINI spinal cord fusion will work on human beings. With the help of advanced technology in the field of medical science, he and his team of collaborators are going to do a human head transplant this year.
Volunteer and the Transplant procedure
Valery Spiridonov, a 31 year old Russian man, agreed to undergo this head transplant this year. Mr. Spiridonov who suffers from a rare spinal muscular atrophy has spent all his life on a wheel chair. He hopes this surgery will help him attain a fully functional body.
The objective of this surgery is to transplant Spiridonov’s head to a body of a brain dead person. This would involve cooling his and the donor’s head to a temperature of -15 ˚c, to keep the brain cells from getting damaged. Both heads will be kept in life preserving equipments. The main procedure is to cut and connect the head with the spinal cord, connecting and fusing the nerves, blood vessels and the spinal cord to the donor’s body using poly ethylene glycol. The surgery is expected to last 36 hours with more than 150 doctors and nurses attending both subjects. After the surgery, doctors will put Spiridonov into medically induced coma to make the healing better.
The overall surgery cost is estimated over $11 million and it is most likely to take place in London in December this year. Dr Canavero says that there is more than 90% chance of this surgery going to be a success and if it does, it will be a breakthrough for sure.
Risks and Controversies
One of the main factors to consider in this surgery is the risk of spinal cord losing its ability. The doctors will only have 60 minutes to reattach the head to the body. Most doctors around the world say that once the spinal cord is cut and repaired, it loses its ability to function. They say that the recipient might not be able to move the body parts and organs which can result into death. A spinal cord has never been successfully reattached before in any cases in the medical history. It’s also reported that the rats on which the similar kind of surgery was done previously, did not survive for more than one hour.
Also the ethics behind this surgery is being questioned all over the world. Human right activists and medical practitioners call Dr. Canevero as Dr. Frankenstein. They say that he is just being skeptical and unethical as a medical practitioner.
This controversial surgery is fascinating and being watched by people and medical society all over the world. If this surgery succeeds, this will be the key to everlasting life as Dr. Canevero says. We, doctors, and the whole world is waiting for it and for all the right reasons.