Has the World's First Human Head Transplant been Performed?... The chances of Sucess!

in #steemstem5 years ago (edited)

This is a very interesting but tricky subject. There has been a lot of controversy surrounding this. Science and Medicine have generally evolved greatly in recent times. A lot of outstanding discoveries are being made on a regular basis. People who have irreversible disabilities or health defects are regaining hope of a better way of life through robotics and some nerve growth simulators. We've heard of the first successful hand transplant on a child which happened two years ago; and the also most extensive facial transplant ever performed which also happened around the same time.

This isn't technically a new development as the first ever head transplant was performed in the year 1959 (it was performed on a dog).

As far as head transplant surgery goes; Well, come with me and let's make this discovery together as I'll be giving you my personal opinion on this touchy subject at the end of this post.

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A head transplant is an experimental surgical operation involving the grafting of one organisms head onto the body of another.

Brief history

In the year 1908, two extremely talented surgeons(named Alexis Carrel and Charles Claude Guthrie) collaborated and grafted the head of one dog on an intact second dog. The grafted dog didn't survive and died a few hours later.

In 1954, Vladimir Demikhov performed an experiment in which he grafted the head and upper body of a dog; including the front legs, onto another dog. The effort was mainly to try and provide blood supply to the donor head and upper body. The dog only survived a few hours and died due to transplant rejection(As there really wasn't any immunosuppressive medications at that time).

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In 1965, Robert J White did some experiments in which he also grafted the vascular system of isolated dog brains onto existing dogs; The grafted heads was able to function for some time. The eyes tracked moving objects, and it could chew and swallow. Eventually, the grafting caused blood clots to form and this led to the death of the animal(s).

After that time, the experiments on animals reduced, there was always a lot of media backlash and criticism. As people felt the ethics of the experiments were crossing a lot of reasonable lines.

In the year 2012, Prof Xiaoping Ren(a chinese orthopaedic surgeon), published work in which he grafted the head of a mouse unto another body.By now, he has developed modern protocols which helped the mouse to survive up to six months (compared to the less than 2 days the animals from the ancient experiments used to survive).

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In 2013, Dr Sergio Canavero(a renowned neurosurgeon), published a protocol that he said would make human head transplantation possible.

Dr Sergio and Prof Xiaoping have since been working hand in hand in attempts to try and finally actualize their life long dream (as they see it) of performing the first ever successful human head transplant.

There have been recent raves in the media lately because Dr Sergio and Prof Xiaoping performed a supposed head transplant surgery on a dead body. Proof hasn't been published yet so am not sure if the surgery actually happened.

However, Professor Xiaoping released a statement saying what he and his team had completed was the first surgical model for a human head transplant- and not a surgery.

Is a head Transplant Even Possible?

I am going to be focusing on factors that need to be put in place in order for a head transplant to be successful.

For a head transplant to be considered successful, the receiving body must have connected to the brain successfully. The basic functions of the body must be working properly in terms of sending and receiving signal from the brain. The spinal cord will have to be reconnected and functioning properly (which has never been done before).

I'll also like to highlight at this juncture that the surgery can only occur under two very significant medical innovations.

  • Human hibernation

  • Cryomedicine

These are two very extensive topics that I'll have to properly dive into in my upcoming posts.

A head transplant will be really challenging.Surgeons will need to join many tissues of the head and new body, including muscles,skin,ligaments,bones,blood vessels and the nerves of the spinal cord.

The doctors hope to use a glue like chemical compound called polyethylene glycol to merge the nerve cells of the head and body. They have tried this on monkeys previously and it actually worked. The problem is, there isn't enough evidence that it would work on a human being. If this was possible, this method would have been used to help spinal cord defected patients. Moreover, the monkeys that were experimented on all eventually die. So i ask, Are they transplanting the head for it to be a short term or long term solution?

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Head transplant is a very risky procedure.Loss of blood flow to the brain is going to be a major problem, as any little complication will lead to severe brain damage. If the body's immune system views the brain as a foreign body and rejects it, the immune system starts to fight it and tries to kill it off. The patient will definitely have to take strong immunosuppressive medications for the rest of his life(which also comes with grave consequences and side effects), in order to avoid the chance that the immune system will attack tissues of the head.

The fact that a spinal cord has never been fused before drastically reduces the chance of the success of the procedure. A lot of other great scientists who are totally against this procedure feel that the amount of energy and resources invested in a head transplant
would make more sense if invested in finding a cure for spinal cord ailments.At the end of the day, if the spinal cord cannot be rectified, this will leave the head transplant patient in a vegetative state.If a solution to spinal cord ailments can be discovered, this will greatly improve chances of a success in the surgery.

The patient will also have to be placed in a coma after the surgery(that is if surgery is successful). The reason is if the patient wakes up before the nerves are healed, this will disorganize the nerves and also the setting of the spinal cord. A long time medically induced coma also comes with its implications because the patient is at high risk of blood clots, reduced brain activity and infection.

One very big inconsistency surrounding this subject is if the body and brain merge successfully, who'll the identity belong to?Does it belong to the donor or the recipient?
How about the reproductive system, who'll the offspring belong to?Will the new being seek the opinion of the families of both donor and recipient when taking any legal actions?
It's been proven that nerves and cells have memories and the identity of the body is impeded in them. I can only imagine what'll happen when the cells and nerves are merged from two different bodies.

My Personal Thoughts

There is currently much more impossible scenarios than a possibility. There are a lot of questions that haven't been answered yet. I firmly believe that the experiments on the animals doesn't produce any concluding evidence that the surgery will be a success on humans. The fact that none of the animals actually survive for a long time looks like a bad signal (and the human head is much more complicated, compared to the animals).

I believe a solution to reconnecting a broken spinal cord has to be effectively put in place.
One of the most significant barriers to the procedure is the inability of nerve tissue to heal properly; scarred nerve tissue does not transmit signals well (this is why a spinal cord injury is so devastating).The chances of successfully connecting the spinal cord nerves to the brain of a different body is still quite far fetched.

I personally feel with the pace of Artificial Intelligence inventions going on in the medical sector, it might be possible that a head gets an artificial body (robotic body) before a head can get a different human body.

However, I've learnt never to say never in the world of science and medicine as I've seen a lot of mind blowing things happen. A lot of ideas that seemed like science fiction in the past have become a reality. I'll keep an open mind and an eye out to see how it'll all eventually unfold. Who knows, they might be able to counter all impossibilities in the nearest future. If a head transplant surgery is eventually done, this will probably be the biggest milestone crossed in medicine.However, it'll be against the ethics of most renowned scientists and doctors, although it is very comforting that the Dr has said that the surgery,will be for a medical, neurological condition, not for life-extension.’This makes it less unethical.The first actual human head transplant is scheduled for December 2017.Let's just keep an open mind.

Thank you so much for reading!

This is just my personal view and opinion and I'll love to know yours. Please let me know in the comment section.

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Until my next post....

Stay healthy!


References And further Reading:

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Well, I know they'd run into problem in terms of rejection and joining every nerves to the exact same way it was before. Now come the big elephant in the room, the rejection. Like every transplant there's always the risk the body would start fighting it as a foreign body which it was.

I've read extensively on this practice and I really do not see anything unethical here or if it should even be an issue. So is trying to live longer than "normal" an issue if such a transplant could make one live more?

I just feel that morals and ethics should not be the main reason that great research that may yield life changing result should be stopped. As long as it is not the Nazi-like butchering termed experiment performed on children in concentration camps, if it is a research on ways on how to make life better, then they should go for it.

Great article. Thanks for sharing.

Hello @greenrun,
Thank you for reading!
I totally agree with you on the points you've made.I also support anything that can improve the standard of living for people who are disabled.
Even though there is a bit of resistance in the ethical part, i don't think that is the main concern of the opposing scientists.
The Dr's who want to perform the surgery in December have just not proven reasonably that the procedure will work. Their procedure hasn't even worked on animals (as all the experimented animals eventually die). If they are not able to get it to work properly on animals, there's no way they'll be successful on a human.
The procedure cost about $13million,This is why a lot of scientists(including me) feel he should focus on getting a proven method of reconnecting spinal cord (as this has never been done before).
After all, if he isn't able to connect a severed spinal cord, the procedure cannot be considered a success.
He has scheduled the first procedure to happen next month. We'll all see the outcome of the procedure.
I think it might be possible to have a successful head transplant, once a solution is conferred to spinal cord reconnection.
Thanks again for reading!


If they haven't done their homework, then they should postpone the operation till all the research is done. It'd be amazing to see them reconnect a broken spinal cord. Then those who have theirs broken during accident stand a chance of walking again.

Yes dear, definitely!
Am really so interested in this procedure.
It'll indeed be the greatest milestone ever crossed in medicine, if it works.
Steem on!

Oh yeah. Thanks.

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Fascinating post. I look forward to the follow-up one in December ;)

Hello @exercisinghealth

Yes dear..
The topic is indeed facinating.
Thank you for reading!

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