Canavero: First Head Transplant has a 90%+ Chance of Success

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head transplant
Dr. Sergio Canavero | abc.net.au

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I have a soft spot in my heart for the ‘mad scientist’ trope. Naturally, I went searching for news about the first head transplant.

At first, I was convinced that the story had to be entirely fake; something for the tabloids or click-bait sites. I dug deeper, expecting to find the origin of this fabrication. Yet, in fact, the first head transplant is scheduled for December 2017.

The first human head transplant will take place in December 2017.Click To Tweet

In this tale, our would-be mad scientist is Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero. True to the trope, Canavero thumbs his nose at conventional methods, but he’s no villain.

The good doctor has aspirations to give mobility back to the immobile, and even though many in the scientific and medical communities scoff at his latest endeavor, they have nonetheless heard him out and have published his detailed plans in the journal Surgical Neurology International.

If all of this still sounds insane to you, don’t worry, you aren’t alone. Just don’t lose your head.

The Procedure

Believe it or not, Canavero has a volunteer for this medical adventure: Valery Spiridonov.

head transplant
Valery Spiridonov | Maxim Zmeyev | Reuters

Spiridonov is a Russian-born man who suffers from a rare condition known as Werdnig-Hoffmann Disease.

The disease that he bears has cost him his body from the neck down, leaving him with broken down muscles and nerves, including those all-important nerve cells in the spinal cluster that enable people to stand and walk.

Spiridonov lives his life in a wheelchair, barely able to feed himself, type, and move around with the help of a joystick. It’s a fate I can’t even begin to imagine. Yet, it’s a good indication of why he might volunteer for history’s first head transplant.

HEAVEN: Head Anastomosis for Transplantation

First, Canavero and his team will need to round up a body. They will need a young, brain-dead male patient. Unfortunately, Four Loko is illegal now, so fewer ideal candidates exist.

Once they have permission from the family of the donor, Spiridonov’s body will be cooled to 50 degrees Fahrenheit to slow down tissue atrophy, giving the team about an hour to perform the transplant before his brain dies.

Then, both patient and donor will have their heads simultaneously removed with transparent diamond blades. This is a critical juncture because of the aforementioned time limit, and it will require a custom-made crane to carefully lower Spiridonov’s head onto the donor body’s neck.

Dr. Canavero to be played by Bryan Cranston
Dr. Canavero to be played by Bryan Cranston (JK) | Dailymail.co.uk

Once the head is lowered, it will be fused together with its new spinal cord using a chemical called polyethylene glycol, or PEG for short. PEG has been shown to promote the regrowth of spinal cord cells, so the hope here is that they will aid the body in accepting the transplant.

After the spine is connected, all of the muscles and blood from the donor body will have to be joined with Spiridonov’s head. The team is going to need to keep a close eye on the status of the implant, so Spiridonov is going to be kept in an induced coma for three to four weeks to make sure that everything is working as intended. While this is being monitored, implanted electrodes will be strengthening those new nerve connections in the spinal cord.

Canavero: 90%+ Chances of Success

An Italian scientist has planned the first human head transplant for December 2017. Is this a case of misguided science, or will this be an unprecedented step forward for medical research?

Many critics decry Canavero’s plans as unethical, going so far as to say that Canavero should be charged with murder if the patient dies on the operating table, but that doesn’t faze the neurosurgeon one bit. After all, he believes his science to be sound and he projects a lofty “90 percent plus” chance of success. Further encouragement comes from successful animal head transplants such as the transplant of a monkey’s head by Dr. Xiaoping Ren of Harbin Medical University.

Regardless of the public perception of such an endeavor, Canavero and Spiridonov are hopeful that the procedure will be a success. For Spiridonov the benefits are obvious, but if the first human head transplant is a success, the entire medical community can benefit in world-changing ways.

The Potential

I’m just going to come out and say it: If the head transplant is successful, how long until we can actually put our heads on a robot body?

According to Canavero, the procedure could also potentially extend someone’s life. The basic idea is that if your donated body is younger than your original body, you are just adding years onto your life. I find that claim to be dubious, but I will admit that there is a bit of quirky logic to it.

Whatever the benefits are, we won’t know until Canavero performs the surgery. If it isn’t successful, then Canavero will have some serious explaining to do with the entire medical field.

What do you think? Is this just a crackpot theory, or could this revolutionize the field of organ donation and give a new spark of hope to paraplegics?

Breaking Update

Successful Transection and Fusing of Rat Spines

Published in the journal CNS Neuroscience and TherapeuticsDr. Canavero, our darling head transplant doctor, and a team of Chinese doctors detailed a successful severing and reattaching of a spine, conducted on laboratory mice.

Spinal cord surgery in mice
Via CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics

Publications from Newsweek to Gizmodo have also been following Canavero’s work.

At first, the mice could not walk, even though all but one of the test subjects survived. They did regain partial motor functioning a month after the procedure. Morbid, yet promising, we say.

The donor mice and recipient of a head transplant.
Via CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics

To summarize the breakthrough, the team wrote, “We show for the first time in an adequately powered study that the paralysis attendant to a complete transection of the spinal cord can be reversed.”

Breaking Update

Kilburn to produce a docu-series on first human head transplant

Keeping up with Canavero? Soon you will be able to, on your TV.
Sergio Canavero to have a mini documentary series made by Kilburn TV
Sergio Canavero, via ANSA/DI MARCO / KLD
Television production company Kilburn TV has secured the select, worldwide rights to create a docu-series including Dr. Sergio Canavero and a global group of specialists and researchers as they prepare for the principal ever human head transplant surgery.

The new docuseries will investigate the layers of logical, moral, human and religious issues that Canavero and his group confront as they get ready for and execute the surgery.

Edgy Labs updates this story regularly. We write about cutting-edge technology and science developments that matter to you. If you enjoyed this reporting, please check out our other great articles, or share this article with a friend who cares. Thank you! #payitforward #goodvibes #karma

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61 COMMENTS

  1. What an amazing story – kept waiting for a punchline but concluded this is for real until I realised that while it is *not* April 1st in Australia, it still is back in USA !!!.

    Doug M

      • I haven’t told many people I know this yet, but I am scheduled for a brain refurbishing processed pioneered by some brilliant Australian surgeons.

        They have developed a technique for using stem-cells to rework crucial parts of the brain without cranial surgery. I.e. No need to open the skull.

        The special areas they focus on are what is known as Wernike’s region and Broca’s region.

        By refurbishing the cells in these two regions, an older person is able to recall data faster as well as recognise patterns at a rate only achieved by young people ( below 30 years of age). Without this procedure, us older folk tend to be slower than our grand children (ps – I have 3.7 great grand children 😉 ).

        Now I am assuming it is still the same date in US as when the original post was made.

        Cheers
        DSM

  2. Certainly not an April Fools’ Joke – but it is actually a body transplant – a head transplant would be little use to me if I wanted to carry on living.

    • Yes for elderly people we need nanobot cellular repair level work of the brain. This can be done but it’s still a ways off. 🙁

  3. That’s ridiculous. It would require more than a new head/brain for the unfortunate patient in this experiment to walk and otherwise move. They can’t keep his “old” spinal cord because that’s defective. The donor’s brain is dead and therefore presumably his spinal cord cannot be controlled by the donor’s brain and many, most or all of the donor’s spinal nerves could be dead. And how in the world can the numerous, minute spinal cord nerves be connected to the brain and body? It sounds like a minimum two-day operation in addition to which it won’t work. And how will the recipient man’s small and misshapen body–which now has atrophied muscles and short tendons, ligaments, muscles, and nerves–ever grow? This Italian neurosurgeon is just bucking for notoriety. He’s a monster. Only greed for future money and being a fame whore could so blind a supposedly legitimate surgeon. I only feel sorry for the poor, desperate, hopeful patient–may God bless him.

      • Yes, I’m aware it’s a body transplant. My first point is that the recipient’s head has a brain which has to have been affected by the neuro-muscular degenerative disease of his body, so how successful–even if they could successfully attach it to the donor body–would such an operation be? The second point is that it’s not merely a mechanic procedure to connecting the patient’s head to the donor’s body: it’s a highly intricate process of (1) severing the donor’s head from his body; (2) attaching the donor body’s nerves, muscles, blood vessels, tendons, ligaments, muscles, vertebrae, disks and spinal cord to the recipient’s head. And all of this within a finite period of time while starting blood circulation and starting the heart beat in a donor’s dead body. So it appears practically useless to either coonect the dead man’s normal head and brain to the recipient’s crippled body or to attach the live recipient’s head–which arguably contains defective motor neurons and such rven if he’s cognitively unimpaired–to the donor’s dead body.

    • A “monster”? What are you a Christian Scientist? That is not fair for you to assume that Dr. Canavero is motivated by notoriety or greed. And even if that was the case, do you not see the major medical benefits this would have for all of humanity? This man is a visionary, a pioneer! It is religious quacks like you who hold back the potential of mankind. If Valery Spiridonov is willing to take that risk, I don’t think he needs zealots like you to feel sorry for him. Even in cases where there is involuntary medical experimentation, we have had positive outcomes. I’m not condoning the act of performing experimentation on the unaware, I am simply pointing out how we have an actual volunteer here who has weighed out the pros and cons and is willing to take the ultimate sacrifice for the betterment of mankind!! I would be interested in knowing your thoughts on voluntary military service. Should we assume that all commanders and chiefs are greedy “fame whores’ (as you so eloquently put it) because they are allowing voluntary servicemen to put there life on the line, to protect and serve their people? Because that is exactly what Dr. Canavero and Valery Spiridonov will be doing. Whether the procedure is a success or failure, much will be learned from it in the field of medical science. And for that, we should be grateful of both men for putting there life/career on the line in order to push human beings to the next level.

      • No, I am not a Christian Scientist. Nor am I a Jehovah’s Witness. Jehovah’s witnesses, while they accept medical care, reject blood transfusions, which would prevent this entire bidy transplant procedure. I won’t even address your illogical nonsequiturious introduction of the military VISa-vis the medical discussion. In grade school there used to be a humorous and apt reply to the military non sequitur you introduced: “What does that have to do with the price of eggs in China?” LOL

      • Yes, I’m aware it’s a body transplant. My first point is that the recipient’s head has a brain which has to have been affected by the neuro-muscular degenerative disease of his body, so how successful–even if they could successfully attach it to the donor body–would such an operation be? The second point is that it’s not merely a mechanic procedure to connecting the patient’s head to the donor’s body: it’s a highly intricate process of (1) severing the donor’s head from his body; (2) attaching the donor body’s nerves, muscles, blood vessels, tendons, ligaments, muscles, vertebrae, disks and spinal cord to the recipient’s head. And all of this within a finite period of time while starting blood circulation and starting the heart beat in a donor’s dead body. So it appears practically useless to either coonect the dead man’s normal head and brain to the recipient’s crippled body or to attach the live recipient’s head–which arguably contains defective motor neurons and such rven if he’s cognitively unimpaired–to the donor’s dead body. I base this on an academic background of 4 years of pre-medicine inundergraduate school concurrent with two other majors , one of them scientific; a Master’s degree in a medical field; work in hospitals, nursing homes and laboratories–including the National Institutes of Health and Georgetown University Medical School’s Experimental Surgery and Anatomy labs; and volunteering with brain-damaged and paralyzed patients in addition to caring for my paraplegic Mother. Many M.D.s, Ph.D.s as well as M.D.-Ph.D.s are of the same opinion that the proposed surgery is not only unworkable but wthically minstrius. And your background is?

      • Crit, Yes, I’m aware it’s a body transplant. My first point is that the recipient’s head has a brain which has to have been affected by the neuro-muscular degenerative disease of his body, so how successful–even if they could successfully attach it to the donor body–would such an operation be? The second point is that it’s not merely a mechanic procedure to connecting the patient’s head to the donor’s body: it’s a highly intricate process of (1) severing the donor’s head from his body; (2) attaching the donor body’s nerves, muscles, blood vessels, tendons, ligaments, muscles, vertebrae, disks and spinal cord to the recipient’s head. And all of this within a finite period of time while starting blood circulation and starting the heart beat in a donor’s dead body. So it appears practically useless to either coonect the dead man’s normal head and brain to the recipient’s crippled body or to attach the live recipient’s head–which arguably contains defective motor neurons and such rven if he’s cognitively unimpaired–to the donor’s dead body. I base this on an academic background of 4 years of pre-medicine inundergraduate school concurrent with two other majors , one of them scientific; a Master’s degree in a medical field; work in hospitals, nursing homes and laboratories–including the National Institutes of Health and Georgetown University Medical School’s Experimental Surgery and Anatomy labs; and volunteering with brain-damaged and paralyzed patients in addition to caring for my paraplegic Mother. Many M.D.s, Ph.D.s as well as M.D.-Ph.D.s are of the same opinion that the proposed surgery is not only unworkable but wthically minstrius. And your background is?

    • The BODY will be gotten rid of. It is a BODY transplant! There is NO INTENTION for his body to GROW! The doctor is in no way, a MONSTER! YOU are ridiculous!!

      • My point is that both concepts are theoretically and in practice unworkable. Yes, I’m aware it’s a body transplant. My first point is that the recipient’s head has a brain which has to have been affected by the neuro-muscular degenerative disease of his body, so how successful–even if they could successfully attach it to the donor body–would such an operation be? The second point is that it’s not merely a mechanic procedure to connecting the patient’s head to the donor’s body: it’s a highly intricate process of (1) severing the donor’s head from his body; (2) attaching the donor body’s nerves, muscles, blood vessels, tendons, ligaments, muscles, vertebrae, disks and spinal cord to the recipient’s head. And all of this within a finite period of time while starting blood circulation and starting the heart beat in a donor’s dead body. So it appears practically useless to either coonect the dead man’s normal head and brain to the recipient’s crippled body or to attach the live recipient’s head–which arguably contains defective motor neurons and such rven if he’s cognitively unimpaired–to the donor’s dead body.

  4. Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: [to Igor] Now that brain that you gave me. Was it Hans Delbruck’s?

    Igor: [pause, then] No.

    Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: Ah! Very good. Would you mind telling me whose brain I DID put in?

    Igor: Then you won’t be angry?

    Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: I will NOT be angry.

    Igor: Abby someone.

    Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: [pause, then] Abby someone. Abby who?

    Igor: Abby… Normal.

    Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: [pause, then] Abby Normal?

    Igor: I’m almost sure that was the name.

    Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: [chuckles, then] Are you saying that I put an abnormal brain into a seven and a half foot long, fifty-four inch wide GORILLA?

    [grabs Igor and starts throttling him]

    Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: Is that what you’re telling me?

      • I don’t want immortality, but if I became a para, or quad, I’d like to think this would be a possibility.

        • Kate Cassidy, the flippant nickname you use of “para” and “quad” is very disrespectful. Do you think you sound cool using those flippant words? Furthermore, the medical etiquette is not to, unlike your labels in another post here, refer to people who are paraplegic ir quadriplegic as “paras” and “quads” as if they were objects like unicycles or bicycles. They are respectfully referred to by the adjective “paraplegic” or “quadriplegic” instead of using the adjective as a noun. It’s insensitive to label them as “a quadriplegic” or “a paraplegic” because you make it sound as if that defined them. That’s not who they are. They are people whose bodily condition hapoens to be paraplegia or quadriplegia. My Mom was rendered paraplegic by a surgery that not only was unnecessary but was botched. And I’ve volunteered a lot, both before and after my Mom’s tragedy, with paraplegic and quadriplegic ladies, gentlemen and kid so I’m familiar with the appropriate way to refer to the adults and children having those medical conditions.

    • This is not immortality. It is giving hope to paras, and quads, and those whose bodies are failing miserably, but their minds are fine.

      • Kate Cassidy, the flippant nickname you use of “paras” and “quads” is very disrespectful. In a second post you used “a para” and “a quad”. Do you think you sound cool using those flippant words?

        The medical etiquette is not to refer to people who are paraplegic or quadriplegic as “paras” and “quads” or “a para” and “a quad” as if they were objects like unicycles or bicycles. They are respectfully referred to by the adjective “paraplegic” or “quadriplegic” coupled with a noun–e.g., “the paraplegic patient”–instead of using the adjective as a noun.

        It’s insensitive to label them as “a quadriplegic” or “a paraplegic” because you make it sound as if that defined them. That’s not who they are. They are people whose bodily condition happens to be paraplegia or quadriplegia. My Mom was rendered paraplegic by a surgery that not only was unnecessary but was botched. And I’ve volunteered a lot, both before and after my Mom’s tragedy, with paraplegic and quadriplegic ladies, gentlemen and kids so I’m familiar with the appropriate way to refer to the adults and children having those medical conditions.

  5. People always forget something big; the true breakthroughs are always laughed at or called crazy first. The irony is so much more will come of this then just the head trasnplant. So many advacments all at once.

  6. My only concern is Dr. Canavero’s claim of a 90% success rate. Xiaoping Ren’s experiments on mice did not have a success rate anything close to that from what I’ve read. And I also remember the same procedure with monkey’s ending with the body rejecting the head hours later. What is Dr. C basing his success rates off of?

  7. It’s not that we can, but more of should we? With so many pressing major health issues affecting millions, should we not be looking to solve these problems ASAP rather than seek the blue sky R&D. The planet is literally dying before our eyes, in the sense of a comfortable place for humanity. Ethical thoughts drive me to believe this type of empirical research is probably not a great spend of funds.

    • However do you think this project really sucks up an absolutely vast amount of available funds? If anything, the INFINITELY BIGGER wastes of funds are from political issues. You can’t attack any one particular project as a “waste of money” — by the way, this is medicine — but rather, you have to look at the _wholistic picture_ of the _entire budget_ and see if the _overall division_ of money is a sane or insane one.

      FWIW, a lot of “major” health problems are just as much political/economic as medical. E.g. many could be alleviated with suitably healthy and proper diets — yet this is often too expensive for those most susceptible to illness (i.e. the lower classes), there are too many temptations from junk foods, and there is often little education in these matters. None of those are medical, they’re all political and economic.

      That said, there are other reasons to be concerned with this project.

    • The planet is not dying before our eyes. Stop listening to Al Gore. This is a very small surgical team doing this, it’s not taking monies or time away from big picture medical fights.

    • There is definitely many ethical concerns in regard to this procedure, but wether we should be looking to cure other things is definitely not one of them. Every scientist is free to pursue whatever question they see fit to answer. I’m currently studying cures for incurable neurological diseases. They are very rare, but would be of large benefit to those suffering from these horrible diseases. Should I cease that pursuit and look for cures to cancer, just because it’s more prevalent? Freedom is for everyone, also scientists,

  8. Before you do a full head transplant, why not work on the seemingly easier, safer, and less ethically troublesome problem of a full eye transplant (that is, transplanting a complete eyeball including optic nerve connection)? The trick is the nerve bit. The head has a nerve bit, too. Why not try to get that working with eyes first? If you can’t do it with an eye, how are you going to do it with the much more complex and risky bundle of nerves for the spine? And if you can do it with the eye, then surely that knowledge could be applied to doing a more confident head transplant. FWIW I wouldn’t trust any head transplant until we can get an eye transplant with _perfect fidelity_ of vision in the new eye. Anything less than that equivalent for a head transplant could translate to catastrophic signal transmission failure (“blurring” or “bad vision” in the _connections with your body_ couldn’t possibly be good for you), with who knows what kind of lethal, or agonizing, consequences as a result.

    Learn to walk first, before you try to run.

    • An eye transplant is likely vastly more difficult than re-attaching a spinal chord. Why should we have to jump through unnecessary hoops at your request. There is already technology to let the blind see without your nonsense request.

      • The problem is if we can’t even transplant an eye, which has a more decent risk factor (if they’re already blind, the worst case is they stay blind), how do we expect to transplant a head? I’m saying that if we don’t have the ABILITY to transplant the eye, how can we think we then have the ABILITY to transplant a head? It’s an even BIGGER bundle of nerves you have to get connected just right in that spinal column, than in the eye. And the stakes are much higher. Who knows, you could potentially connect the wrong nerve, and get essentially continuous intolerable pain signals being delivered to that brain which sounds absolutely frightening to even contemplate (a signal supposed to mean something else gets sent down a pain channel, and thus ends up interpreted as pain). If you reconnect the eye nerves up wrong, worst case is that it gives a bad image, or it just stays blind. Or your don’t get the nerves controlling the heart hooked right, so the heart either doesn’t get the signal to properly control beating or it gets invalid signals causing an effective instant heart attack. That all is, if any of the nerves connect at all, and they might not even do that. If you can’t do the low stakes one why jump directly to the high stakes one? Get the low risk one down first, then you will be on better ground to attempt that high risk one.

  9. This is the ultimate of heroics! Charged with murder? Those people are mental. This is trying to save a man who’s in a rapidly dying body with the ultimate of heroics. It’s basically a quick death sentence for Spiridonov which is why he took this risk. Some chance of living is better than none. Even if this surgery is not successful we will learn a great deal about how to do these surgeries in the future. Think about all the people who could be saved in the future in car accidents who have a crushed body but intact head/brain.

    For people who think this is weird how do you think people who have robotic limbs feel. Just because you can’t fathom something doesn’t mean you should stop others from benefiting from it especially when it harms no one.

    • Think about all the people who could’ve been saved that shouldn’t be. Then take a step back and think about if this were true; what kind of harm these people could do to others who shouldn’t be around anymore.

      Hitler, Osama, Hussein, _fill in the blanks_

  10. I am wondering, let’s say this work…this man has an illness that I destroying his body. Wouldn’t his desease pass on the donated body?

  11. Have people forgotten Alfred Blalock, who, with Vivien Thomas, did the first heart surgery, to fix the “Blue Babies” hearts. Until then, it was thought to be sacrilege to operate on the heart. I think this is great!!

  12. I wish a successful happy end to this transplantation! That will given for many people the second chance of live…

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