Italian Neuroscientist Plans First Human Head Transplant

Tuesday, 20 September 2016 - 4:14PM
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Tuesday, 20 September 2016 - 4:14PM
Italian Neuroscientist Plans First Human Head Transplant
Even for fans of Futurama, what Sergio Canavero recently announced is pretty extreme: the Italian neuroscientist is gearing up for the first human head transplant. A young, disabled Russian man, Valery Spiridonov, has volunteered for the procedure, which Canavero claims will be conducted next year, potentially at a hospital in Vietnam (which has volunteered their facilities). Canavero has claimed that there is a 90% chance of success.

Canavero's team has already experimented on a number of animals and plans to experiment on human corpses before the procedure with Spiridonov, but the scientific community is already telling him to slow down and show the hard researchThe New Scientist has released a video of one of the mice Canavero experimented on, which had its spinal cord severed before being reattached:



Canavero's experiments are based on the use of PEG, or polyethylene glycol, which is used to bind the severed parts of a spine together. Some of the experiments on rats also used graphene nanoribbons, which, in theory, may provide a scaffolding for new neurons to grow and reconnect. Experiments were conducted on mice, rats, and a dog, but the most interesting (and disturbing) test subject was a monkey:

Opening quote
According to Canavero, researchers led by Xiaoping Ren at Harbin Medical University, China, have carried out a head transplant on a monkey. They connected up the blood supply between the head and the new body, but did not attempt to connect the spinal cord. Canavero says the experiment, which repeats the work of Robert White in the US in 1970, demonstrates that if the head is cooled to -15 °C, a monkey can survive the procedure without suffering brain injury.
Closing quote

The New Scientist



The monkey was euthanized a short time after the procedure, but the implications of rushing (and botching) head transplant surgery loom over Canavero's team following the recent announcement. The greater scientific community has lodged several complaints, including the fact that several of the animals used in the experiments (including many of the rats injected with a more powerful form of PEG and graphene nanoribbons) were accidentally killed before they could be examined thoroughly, or lack strong documentation that other scientists can examine. The other factor is time: it usually takes years for human trials to begin after a period of experimentation, and the fact that Canavero wants to transplant a human head next year makes his claims on due diligence more than a little suspect.

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