Is Human Head Transplant possible?

Before now, a lot of transplants have been made. Think of kidney transplant, liver transplant, heart transplant and even bone marrow transplant, all these are today common surgery processes. But the field of medicine has been known to be a ground of surprises. In the year 1987, Benjamin Carson, a Paediatric neurosurgeon performed the first ever successful separation of siemese twins that set the world inghast in awe. This amongst others has made the field of medicine a great field. But let us come back to the topic of discussion; human head transplant.

Human head transplant

A head transplant is a surgical operation which involves the grafting of one organism’s head onto the body of another. Do not confuse it with the hypothetical surgical operation-the brain transplant. Head transplantation involves decapitating the patient. Although, it has been successfully performed using rats, dog, and monkey, no human is known to have undergone the procedure.

Since the technology required to re-attach a severed spinal cord has not yet been developed, the subject of head transplant would become quadriplegic unless proper therapies were developed. This techniques has been proposed as possibly useful for people who are already quadriplegic and who are also has an illness of a widespread organ failure which would otherwise require several district and difficult transplant surgeries

In June 2015, a possible candidate was found. The candidate, a thirty year old Russian, Valery Spiridinov suffers from werdings Hoffman disease, a muscle wasting condition that seriously diminishes his physical capabilities and left him dependent on a wheel chair. He has announced his intention to become the world’s first subject of a full head transplant, so that his brain can be attached to a healthy body.

The recent vanguard for the renaissance of human head transplant is a Italian neuroscientist, Dr. Sergio Canavero. He claims that by the year 2017, a successful human head transplant could be achieved but some doctors have doubts. Dr. Sergio said the procedure which he called head anastomosis venture might be feasible with improved technology and more accurate ability to keep neural tissue profused. He proposed USA or China as a better location for the operation.

The process

The whole process, Dr. Canavero says is “90 percent” guaranteed to succeed, though he admitted. Of course, there is a marginal risk. I cannot deny that”. The doubts of many doctors are based on the fact that the chance of Mr. Spindinov’s brain to remain functional by the time the surgery is complete is small. However, Mr. Spindinov is more optimistic. “If I have a chance of full body replacement I will get rid of the limits and be more independent” he said.

Stage one

Stage one of the operation involves cooling the patient and donor’s bodies in order to prevent the brain cell from dying during the operation. The neck is then severed and the blood vessels from one body linked to the other with tubes. The idea of lowering the body temperature to between 15-170C is a very well recognized technique used for complex neurosurgery or cardiovascular surgery in which there is an expectation that the brain will be starved of its blood and oxygen supply for a substantial period.

Stage two

Stage two sees the spinal cord cut with an extremely fine blade to minimize damage. The donor head is then removed, placed on the recipients body and the spinal cord fused back together again using polyethylene glycol.

Stage three

Stage three involves knitting together the survivor’s blood vessels and nerves, though a consultant neurosurgeon at St. George’s hospital, London, Dr. Matthew Crocker said he doubted whether the feat had ever been attempted on such a scale successfully before. The body is then kept in a coma for several weeks to prevent movement and allow time for the spinal cord to glue itself back together. “That is very speculative”, Mr. Crocker said, “The issue here is that someone with a functioning spinal cord is facing having that function completely removed.

Consider these questions:

First what effect does this have on ethnics and religion? Secondly who among the donor or patient is gaining or rather who among them is alive, the donor or patient? Thirdly, can this operation be done with patient and donor of opposite sex?  i.e. a male donor and female patient or the other way round. However we are looking forward to December 2017 when Dr. Sergio Canavero will perform the first human head transplant using the head of Mr. Valery Spiridinov and the body of another patient yet unknown.

Author-Onyekere Prince

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