Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Human Head Transplant: Fact or Fiction?

      Italian surgeon Sergio Canavero recently made headlines when he announced his plans to conduct the first ever human head transplant. As expected, Dr. Canavero's announcement caused a great deal of controversy among scientists, with many voicing concerns that the procedure is unethical due to its highly experimental nature and the potential for serious complications. In addition to becoming an outcast in the Italian medical community due to his radical thinking, Dr. Canavero was also terminated at the hospital in Turin where he had been working. Despite all this backlash from the scientific establishment, Dr. Canavero was still able to garner support from the Harbin Institute of Technology in China. It is here that he will attempt the unimaginable: surgically remove a person's head from their own body and attach it to a second "donor" body.
 
     Valery Spiridonov, a 31 year old Russian artist, has been in a wheelchair his entire life. Muscular atrophy has left him paralyzed and desperate enough to volunteer for radical new medical treatments. When Spiridonov found information about Dr. Canavero's work on the internet, he contacted him and volunteered himself as the first ever human head transplant patient. In the summer of 2015, Canavero presented Mr. Spridonov to a group of American surgeons and confirmed that he would be the first experimental patient. Spiridonov's head will be removed from his own body and placed on a healthy donor body. This involves connecting the head-body arteries, throat and spine. The most important and daunting task of the procedure is the connection of nerve fibers from the head to the body. There are millions of nerve fibers which will need to be severed, and these fibers must be properly connected to the donor body in order for the transplant to be successful. The entire procedure will require 80 surgeons and take more than two days to complete.

     On January 19th, 2016, an article in New Scientist reported an announcement from Dr. Canavero which stated that Korean scientist C-Yoon Kim had successfully transplanted the head of a monkey and several mice. Although the seven scientific papers related to this development have not yet been released, this announcement coupled with optimistic statements from Dr. Canavero suggest that a human head transplant may be on the horizon. Only time will tell as to whether such a feat can actually be accomplished with today's medical technology.

References:
The Guardian
New Scientist
Posted by: Bradley Sarasin (3) (Group 3)

7 comments:

  1. Wow that is very interesting. I do believe that it's possible if surgeons have been able to successfully transplanted the head of a monkey and mice. I would very much like to keep tabs on the process and surgical procedures presented to successfully transplant this human head. Although this procedure could encounter many complications I feel with today's modern technology and the procedures of the monkeys head plant at hand it could be possible.

    Stephanie Aboody

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    1. I also believe humans will eventually be able to perform a full-body transplant. To be honest, I think we are perfectly capable of performing the procedure now, but ethical concerns and the resulting lack of financing has prevented more exploration into human head transplantation. If monkey head transplants can be perfected to the point of great success, more scientists will likely become convinced and willing to participate in such an ethically questionable procedure.

      Bradley Sarasin (Group 3)

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  2. I'm really interested to see how this turns out and I admit I've never heard of or considered this to ever be a possibility. I wonder though even if this surgery was successful exactly how well they would be able to move around in this new body and what kinds of complications could arise from this. If they didn't properly reattach all of the nerve fibers would this person just end up with partial or full paralysis again?

    Cole DiStasio (Group 1)

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    1. A huge ethical concern with this procedure is the potential complications a patient may experience in recovery. If the individual survives the transplant, they can expect months of rehabilitation in order to gain control of their new body. A human head transplant has never been performed before, so scientists aren't really sure what the patient will experience. For the first three weeks after surgery, they will be kept in an induced coma in order to prevent movement. According to the Guardian article linked above, there are certain techniques Dr. Canavero plans to use in order to attach nerve fibers (electric shocks, polyethylene glycol), although these may or may not be effective. According to Canavero, 10-20% of nerve fibers will need to be connected in order to allow for movement of the donor body.

      Bradley Sarasin (Group 3)

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  3. I heard about this over the summer and all I could think about is where this healthy donor body is going to come from. It's not like someone is volunteering to donate a kidney or some blood. Also I can't believe to imagine the psychological effects on Valery if the surgery is successful. On one hand he could live a normal life but looking into the mirror and not seeing your own body is a little haunting.

    Allen Currier

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  4. This is a really interesting topic, to think that we came so far in medicine that we're able to transplant a human head. If I were ask if it was possible, I would say that there's a very small percentage of actually doing it. Very close to zero, think about all the neurons, vessels, tissues, etc. The condition has to be perfect, now if you clone yourself and try to do it than yeah the percentage is much higher because the body is identical to yours. I'm really interested in reading about this topic, I wonder if we have the technology to pull this off.

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  5. I found this topic to be incredibly interesting. If the doctor is able to successfully complete the transplant that would be huge for the medical community. That would mean that anyone who was a quadriplegic would have the opportunity to do this and gain back the use of their limbs. It is kind of a haunting idea thinking that the body of a cadaver would be functional again, but if it means that someone is able to live a more normal life then it should be done.

    Ashley Geary

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