An Italian doctor has recently announced his plan to carry out the first human head transplant by 20171. The proposed procedure, which sounds like something out of a horror movie, has been met with considerable controversy.
Previous attempts to carry out head transplants in animals have proved both gruesome and unsuccessful. In 1954, a Russian surgeon attempted to transplant the head and forelegs of a puppy onto the back of another dog. Despite trying the procedure a few times, all of them only managed to survive for a few days. In 1970, the head of a monkey was ‘successfully’ transplanted onto another monkey’s body in the USA.2 However, the monkey was completely paralysed, could only breathe with the help of a machine and died eight days later when his head was rejected by the donor monkey’s immune system.
Dr. Sergio Cannavero believes that he has tackled some of the problems that led to unsuccessful attempts in the past and that head transplant surgery could be offered to patients, whose bodies no longer work properly, in just two years’ time.3 However, his disturbing proposal has been met with scepticism from scientists all around the world. Many have said that the procedure is too dangerous, unethical and unlikely to succeed.4
Sadly, although it is unlikely that we see the first human head transplant anytime soon, the proposal has sparked the interest of animal researchers who want to try out the technique. Although Cannavero plans to test the procedure on brain dead patients, researchers in China are already trying the procedure on mice.5 The BUAV is deeply concerned about the interest in trying such appalling experiments on animals.
1. First human head transplant could happen in two years. (2015). New Scientist: http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22530103.700-first-human-head-transplant-could-happen-in-two-years.html?page=2#.VPSKapVyaUk
3. The “Gemini” spinal cord fusion protocol: Reloaded. (2015). Surgical Neurology International 6:18: http://www.surgicalneurologyint.com/article.asp?issn=2152-7806;year=2015;volume=6;issue=1;spage=18;epage=18;aulast=Canavero and HEAVEN: The head anastomosis venture Project outline for the first human head transplantation with spinal linkage (GEMINI). (2013) Surg Neurol Int. 2013; 4(Suppl 1): S335–S342.
4. Human head transplant: Here’s why it’s a ludicrous idea and highly unlikely to happen by 2017. (2015). The Mirror: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/technology-science/science/human-head-transplant-heres-its-5238403
5. Allogeneic Head and Body Reconstruction: Mouse Model. (2014). CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics 20, 1056–1060.