What happened with Head Transplant in 2017?

What happened with Head Transplant in 2017?

World’s First Head Transplant has Taken Place

Head transplant is often confused with brain transplant but they are two different terminologies. In a head transplant, the head of one organism is grafted onto the body of another through surgery. The head of the recipient may or may not be removed. There are no reported cases of ultimate success in this field till date. There are many complexities associated with it but the most important ones are transplanted rejection, continuous blood supply and the management of the nervous system.

The first two problems are manageable as they are linked with all the transplant surgeries. The most major problem is to control the nervous system. It is responsible for proper functioning of almost all the essential functions of the body from breathing to heart beating. The nerves coming out of the head must connect with the corresponding nerve in the recipient’s spinal cord to allow the brain to control movement and other sensory operations. These are the reasons why the procedure of nerve grafting is still in the early stages of research.

This concept of head transplant was initiated by Charles Guthrie. He attempted to graft the head of a dog on an intact dog. It did show some success early on but things changed pretty quickly and the dog had to be killed in a few hours. The next attempt came forward in 1954, when a Soviet surgeon by the name of Vladimir Demikhov grafted the head and the front part of the body, including legs of a dog to another. His focus was to provide blood supply to the transplanted parts instead of dealing with the nervous system. Sergio Canavero, who is a neuroscientist, published a protocol in 2013 according to which human head transplantation is possible.

In March 2017, it was announced that the first human head transplant will take place. Sergio had asked a Chinese surgeon to join him since his claim. He was working as his partner. They did manage to find a volunteer for their experimental surgery. His name is Valery Spiridonov and he belongs to Russia. He was suffering from Werdnig-Hoffmann Disease, a rare and often fatal genetic disorder that breaks down muscles and kills nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that help the body move. He was confined to a wheelchair and could only move his arms slightly. They are now looking for a young male brain-dead donor whose head could be used. The scientific community was not very happy with this announcement and many people called it unethical.

In November, Sergio announced that world’s first human head transplant has taken place in China using a corpse. He also told that his team is ready for performing such an operation with a living person. In a press conference in Vienna, he said:

“The first human transplant on human cadavers has been done. A full head swap between brain-dead organ donors is the next stage. And that is the final step for the formal head transplant for a medical condition which is imminent.”

Despite all the skepticism and criticism from many prominent doctors around the world, both Canavero and Xiaoping Ren have reported successful operations of head transplant on mice, rat, and monkey. Dr. James Giordano, a professor at the medical center of Georgetown University, advised him to work more towards the reconstruction of spinal cord instead of transplanting it. He also praised Sergio for his discovering work and said.

“He’s run the ethical flag up the poles and said, ‘Look, I’m not an ethicist, I’m a neurologist and this may be an avant-garde technique, I recognize there is a high possibility for failure, but this is the only way we can push the envelope and probe the cutting edge to determine what works, what doesn’t and why.”

Although they have a donor in the form of Spiridonov, the first recipient might be from China. Sergio himself explained this and said,

“The Americans did not understand.”

He also mentioned that to protect the brain of the recipient, it will be cooled to a state of deep hypothermia. Still, there are people who are unsure of this idea and Assya Pascalev is one of them. She said,

“It’s not just about a head adjusting to a new body. We might be dealing with a whole new person.”

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