Neuroscientist says human head transplant could happen in two years

RESTRICTIONS: NONE
For story suggestions please contact [email protected]

The world's first attempt to transplant a human head will be launched this year at a surgical conference in the United States.

The procedure was first proposed in 2013 by Sergio Canavero of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group in Italy to help extend the lives of people suffering from muscle and nerve degeneration or those who have advanced cancer. Canavero said the surgery could be ready as early as 2017.

The procedure begins with doctors cooling the patient’s head and the donor’s body so their cells do not die during the operation.

After the neck is cut through, major blood vessels are linked up using thin tubes, and the spinal cord cut cleanly with a sharp surgical knife to minimise nerve damage.

The head is then moved on to the donor’s body, and the spinal cords can be fused together using polyethylene glycol to encourage the fat in cell membranes to mesh.

Once the neck is sutured, the recipient will be kept in a coma for three or four weeks while implanted electrodes provide regular electrical stimulation to the spinal cord.

Finally, when the patient wakes up from the coma, they will be able to feel their face and speak but will need a year of physiotherapy before they can walk.

The first successful head transplant was carried out in 1970 by a team led by Robert White at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio. The team transplanted the head of one monkey onto the body of another. They did not join the spinal cords, so the monkey was unable to move its body. But it was able to breathe with artificial assistance.

The monkey died nine days later when its immune system rejected the head.

Many neuroscientists are wary of the idea, calling it too outlandish to be a serious consideration and note there are many ethical implications related to the surgery.

RUNDOWN SHOWS:
1. Patient’s head and recipient’s body cooled
2. Neck is cut
3. Patient’s head and recipient’s body connected
4. Patient kept in coma after surgery with electrical stimulation
5. Patient wakes up
6. Patient in physiotherapy

VOICEOVER (in English):

"The head transplant procedure proposed by surgeon Sergio Canavero begins with doctors cooling the patient’s head and the donor’s body so their cells do not die during the operation."

"After the neck is cut through, major blood vessels are linked up using thin tubes, and the spinal cord is cut cleanly to minimise nerve damage.”

“The head is then moved on to the donor’s body, and the spinal cords can be fused together using polyethylene glycol to encourage the fat in cell membranes to mesh.”

“Once the neck is sutured, the recipient will be kept in a coma for three or four weeks while implanted electrodes provide regular electrical stimulation to the spinal cord.”

"Finally, when the patient wakes up from the coma, they will be able to feel their face and speak, but will need a year of physiotherapy before regaining the ability to walk.”

SOURCES: The Guardian, New Scientist, Surgical Neurology International
http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/feb/25/first-full-body-transplant-two-years-away-surgeon-claim
http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22530103.700-first-human-head-transplant-could-happen-in-two-years.html#.VO7jR52Ud8E
http://www.surgicalneurologyint.com/article.asp?issn=2152-7806;year=2015;volume=6;issue=1;spage=18;epage=18;aulast=Canavero