Friday, 5 February 2016

DESPITE THE ODDS; FIRST HUMAN HEAD TRANSPLANT SURGERY ANTICIPATED



With science, what is impossible today is possible tomorrow. Body parts transplant cognates back in 1950s when dog head transplant procedure was done, unfortunately, the dog died due to immune reaction. This was inspiring for the future of science and in 1970, a successful transplant of the head of a monkey to the body of another monkey was done by Robert White - a neurosurgeon and his colleague, a professor of neurological surgery. They further added that what has been achieved with animal model can be accomplished in human sphere. 

In humans, head transplant has a lot of social, cultural, moral and other ethical issues to be justified for the procedure to be carried out. More to this, there should be adequate and advanced technological support to address this issue. Somehow, this can be justified on the grounds that there are helpless medical conditions which are physically disabling and the procedure may add value in managing these conditions.


“Can you imagine looking around a room and you are just a head?” That is the question Dr. Jerry Silver asks as he terms the head transplant surgery as barbaric and may not be feasible even 100 years to come. But this contradicts what Dr. Sergio Canavero –an Italian neurosurgeon, thinks about the future of science in head transplant surgery. Dr. Canavero’s projection is to do first head transplant by end of 2017 either in China or United States. One of the subjects willing to be involved in the project is a Russian in origin battling with Type 1 spinal muscular atrophy with a rapidly diminishing health status.  Dr. Canavero has many requests especially from people with transgender issues to be considered as subjects for the project. 

According to MNT, the procedure will involve disconnection of donors head and spinal cord cut with ultra-sharp blade to avoid more injury to the spinal cord cut ends. Then the donor and recipient spinal cord will be fused together, muscles sutured together and blood vessels reconnected. This may take 36 hours and may involve about 100 surgeons to carry out the procedure. The subjects will then be allowed to stay in coma for 3-4 weeks during which the nerve endings at the severed endings of spinal cord are electrically stimulated and expected to connect. After this, the subjects will be required to undergo assisted physical therapy for a year before they learn to walk.


This project has been received with a lot of criticism as there are moral and social issues to be addressed as well as the question of medical ethics behind head transplant. The chances of this project HEAVEN-GEMINI going through seems ulikely. Dr. Canavero hurdles when asked said that there is likelihood of the recipient’s immune system rejecting the donated head and secondly, complete fusing of the severed ends of the spinal cord. 

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References:
30-year-old Russian man volunteers for world’s first head transplant- Medical News Today. Address: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/292306.php.
HEAVEN: the head anastomosis venture Project outline for the first human head transplantation with spinal linkage (GEMINI)- NCBI. Address: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3821155/
Head Transplant- Wikipedia, The free encyclopedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Head_transplant