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The world’s first head transplant, which was scheduled to take place in December 2017, has been delayed. As of now, there is no definitive date but it would likely take place within the first quarter of 2018.
Canavero added: “The first human transplant on human cadavers has been done. A full head swap between brain dead organ donors is the next stage. This is the final step for the formal head transplant.”
When lead doctor Canavero made his initial proposals in 2016, he said he planned to have the surgery completed before the end of 2017, and most likely in December.
Earlier this year, the proposed first patient for the surgery – Valery Spiridonov – pulled out, saying he would no longer be taking part in the experiment after Dr. Canavero admitted he couldn’t promise the surgery would help Spiridonov walk again. Spiridonov has Werdnig-Hoffmann Disease, a genetic disease that breaks down muscles and kills nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.
Instead, Dr Canavero said he would be looking for a Chinese volunteer in April, after signing up Chinese surgeon Dr. Xiaoping Ren of Harbin Medical University to help him carry out the procedure, and this is said to have delayed things. The surgery is now not expected to take place until early 2018. These reports have not been confirmed, though, and Alphr has contacted Dr. Canavero’s press team for clarification.
But just how feasible is a human head transplant? Is it the stuff of science fiction, or does it have a basis in current scientific thinking? Read on for everything you need to know about this most alarming scientific development.
The Russian volunteer Valery Spiridonov, who was announced to be the first patient to receive the surgery, has decided not to undergo the procedure. Spiridonov suffers from a muscle-wasting disease and has been working with Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero for about two years on getting the procedure done. He recently admitted that he “won’t undergo the procedure” because “the doctor couldn’t promise him what he so wished for: that he would walk again, be able to have a normal life, or that he would even survive the surgery.”
Spiridonov told the Daily Mail “Given that I cannot rely on my Italian colleague, I have to take my health into my own hands. Luckily, there is quite a well-tested surgery for cases like mine when a steel implant is used to support a spine in straight position.” The Russian volunteer will now seek alternative spinal surgery to improve his life instead of undergoing an experimental procedure that has been criticized by several researchers among the scientific community.
Neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero told OOOM that “the surgery will be carried out on a Chinese patient instead” He also announced that he will be working side by side with his colleague Dr. Xiaoping Ren of Harbin Medical University on conducting the operation in Harbin, China. Despite being criticized by the scientific community for his methods, Dr. Canavero is still very optimistic that the outcomes of the surgery will be “positive“.
How does Canavero’s human head transplant work?
Canavero outlines the procedure in detail here, but these are the basics of the process. Remember: don’t try this at home, kids.
The donor body and the head to be attached are first cooled down to 12-15˚C to ensure that the cells last longer than a few minutes without oxygen. The tissue around the neck is then cut, with the major blood vessels linked with tiny tubes. The spinal cord on each party is then severed cleanly with an extremely sharp blade.
“Post-coma, Canavero believes the patient would immediately be able to move, feel their face and even speak with the same voice.”
At this point, the head is ready to be moved, and the two ends of the spinal cord are fused using a chemical called polyethylene glycol, encouraging the cells to mesh. This chemical has been shown to prompt the growth of spinal cord nerves in animals, although Canavero suggests that introducing stem cells or olfactory ensheathing cells into the spinal cord could also be tried.
After the muscles and blood supply are successfully connected, the patient is kept in a coma for a month to limit movement of the newly fused neck, while electrodes stimulate the spinal cord to strengthen its new connections.
Following the coma, Canavero anticipates that the patient would immediately be able to move, feel their face and even speak with the same voice. He believes physiotherapy would allow the patient to walk within a year.