Posts Tagged ‘head transplant’

by Paul Ratner

Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero is planning to perform the first-ever head transplant in December 2017. He will put the head of a terminally ill, wheelchair-bound Russian citizen Valery Spiridonov (31) on an entirely new body.

Spiridonov, a computer scientist, has Werdnig-Hoffman disease, a rare and incurable spinal muscular atrophy. As the disease is sure to kill him, Spiridonov sees the head transplant as his one shot to have a new body.

The controversial surgeon Canavero, dubbed by some “Dr. Frankenstein,” has been criticized for intending to do a possibly unethical and certainly dangerous operation. There are numerous things that could go wrong in such a medical feat that’s never been successfully carried out on humans. The main difficulty is seen in the fusion of the spinal cords.

One positive precedent has been set earlier this year by a team of Chinese surgeons, who successfully transplanted a monkey’s head. Dr. Xiaoping Ren, from Harbin Medical University, led that effort.

Canavero is raising around $18 million to pay for the procedure that he named “HEAVEN” (an acronym for “head anastomosis venture”). The details the doctor has given so far for the two-day operation first involve cooling the patient’s head to -15 C. Then the heads of both the patient and the donor would be severed and the patient’s head would be attached to the donor’s body. The spinal cords would be fused together while the muscle and blood supply would be attached. Spiridonov would then be placed into a coma for about a month to prevent movement and to allow for healing.

The donor of the body would be brain-dead, but otherwise healthy.

How does Spiridonov feel about doing the revolutionary surgery?

He says in an interview:

“If I manage to replace my body and if everything goes well, it will allow me to be free of the limitations I am experiencing. I am not rushing to go under the surgeon’s knife, I am not shouting – come and save me here and now. Yes, I do have a disease which often leads to death, but my first role in this project is not that of a patient. First of all, I am a scientist, I am an engineer, and I am keen to persuade people – medical professionals – that such operation is necessary. I am not going crazy here and rushing to cut off my head, believe me. The surgery will take place only when all believe that the success is 99% possible. In other words, the main task now is to get support for Canavero from the medical community, to let him go on with his methods and to improve them within these two coming years.

Canavero sees the potential use of his procedure not only in situations involving patients with severe disabilities like Spiridonov’s, but also to extend life.

“We are one step closer to extend life indefinitely because when I will be able to give a new body to an 80-year-old they could live for other 40 years,” said the Italian surgeon.

http://bigthink.com/paul-ratner/worlds-first-human-head-transplant-going-ahead

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by Andrew Griffin

The scientist who claims to be about to carry out the first human head transplant says that he has successfully done the procedure on a monkey.

Maverick neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero has tested the procedure in experiments on monkeys and human cadavers, he told New Scientist.

Dr Canavero says that the success shows that his plan to transplant a human’s head onto a donor body is in place. He says that the procedure will be ready before the end of 2017 and could eventually become a way of treating complete paralysis.

“I would say we have plenty of data to go on,” Canavero told New Scientist. “It’s important that people stop thinking this is impossible. This is absolutely possible and we’re working towards it.”

The team behind the work has published videos and images showing a monkey with a transplanted head, as well as mice that are able to move their legs after having their spinal cords severed and then stuck back together.

Fusing the spinal cord of a person is going to be key to successfully transplanting a human head onto a donor body. The scientists claim that they have been able to do so by cleanly cutting the cord and using polyethylene glycol (PEG), which can be used to preserve cell membranes and helps the connection recover.

The monkey head transplant was carried out at Harbin Medical University in China, according to Dr Canavero. The monkey survived the procedure “without any neurological injury of whatever kind,” the surgeon said, but that it was killed 20 hours after the procedure for ethical reasons.

It isn’t the first time that a successful transplant has been carried out on a monkey. Head transplant pioneer Robert J White successfully carried out the procedure in 1970, on a monkey that initially responded well but died after nine days when the body rejected the head.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_J._White

The newly-revealed success is likely to be an attempt to help generate funds for the ultimate aim of giving a head transplant to Valery Spriridonov, the Russian patient who has been chosen to be the first to undergo the procedure. Dr Canavero has said that he will need a huge amount of money to fund the team of surgeons and scientists involved, and that he intends to ask Mark Zuckerberg to help fund it.

While the scientists behind the procedure have published the pictures and the videos, they haven’t yet made any of their work available for critique from fellow scientists. That has led some to criticise the claims, arguing that it is instead “science through PR”, and an attempt to drum up publicity and distract people from “good science”.

Peers have criticised the maverick scientist for making the claims without allowing them to be reviewed or checked out. But Dr Canavero claims that he will be publishing details from the study in journals in the coming months.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/head-transplant-has-been-successfully-done-on-a-monkey-maverick-neurosurgeon-sergio-canavero-claims-a6822361.html

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the It’s Interesting community.

The likely date and location for the first-ever human head transplant have been set, after the controversial Italian doctor that will lead the surgery said that he has selected his team of surgeons.

Radical Italian surgeon Sergio Canavero has drawn fascination and criticism after he announced plans to cut off a man’s head and put it onto another body. Many had expected that the planned operation would probably never happen – but a team has now been appointed to lead the operation.

Canavero is hoping to complete the procedure – which will take 36-hours, and cost $11 million – by December 2017, according to Russia Today.

The transplant is likely to happen in China, with a team made up largely of doctors from the country, according to AFP. That is likely to raise worries about the already highly-controversial operation, since China has been criticised for using the organs of executed prisoners without their consent.

The procedure has already drawn widespread condemnation, from doctors who say that it is likely to kill the person undergoing it, and that if he does survive he will undergo something a “lot worse than death”.

Russian Valery Spiridonov has already been selected as the recipient of the new body. He suffers from the rare, genetic Werdnig-Hoffmann disease, which gradually wastes away his muscles.

During the procedure, the donor and patient will each have their head sliced off their body in a super-fast procedure. The transplanted parts will then be stuck together with glue and stitches.

Spiridinov will then be placed in a month-long coma and injected with drugs intended to stop the body and head from rejecting each other.

Since the procedure is unprecedented, apart from mixed results in dogs and monkeys, doctors are not sure what could happen during the surgery – or how Spiridinov is likely to be if and when he wakes up.

Ren Xiaoping, who will work with Canavero to try and attempt the procedure in the next two years, said that the team will only attempt it if research and tests show that it is likely to be successful.

The operation will probably happen in China, at the Harbin Medical University, according to reports.

Since Ren refused to say where the donated body might be found, some have worried that the donated body might be taken from an executed prisoner.

In China – where the huge population and a low number of donations have led to a high demand for organs – an industry of forced donations and a black market for the sale of organs have flourished.

Canavero has said that China is keen to be involved in the procedure as a way of demonstrating its keenness for scientific research to the world, likening the race to complete the transplant to the space race. The Italian doctor has recognised that he could go to jail for performing the procedure in an unfriendly country and said that he has “been studying Chinese for a few years”.

The doctor has said that the procedure is just a first step towards his ultimate aim of immortality.

http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/head-transplant-team-selected-for-controversial-operation-that-will-go-ahead-in-2017-10498627.html

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the It’s Interesting community.

head-transplant-rhesus

IT’S heady stuff. The world’s first attempt to transplant a human head will be launched this year at a surgical conference in the US. The move is a call to arms to get interested parties together to work towards the surgery.

The idea was first proposed in 2013 by Sergio Canavero of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group in Italy. He wants to use the surgery to extend the lives of people whose muscles and nerves have degenerated or whose organs are riddled with cancer. Now he claims the major hurdles, such as fusing the spinal cord and preventing the body’s immune system from rejecting the head, are surmountable, and the surgery could be ready as early as 2017.

Canavero plans to announce the project at the annual conference of the American Academy of Neurological and Orthopaedic Surgeons (AANOS) in Annapolis, Maryland, in June. Is society ready for such momentous surgery? And does the science even stand up?

The first attempt at a head transplant was carried out on a dog by Soviet surgeon Vladimir Demikhov in 1954. A puppy’s head and forelegs were transplanted onto the back of a larger dog. Demikhov conducted several further attempts but the dogs only survived between two and six days.

The first successful head transplant, in which one head was replaced by another, was carried out in 1970. A team led by Robert White at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio, transplanted the head of one monkey onto the body of another. They didn’t attempt to join the spinal cords, though, so the monkey couldn’t move its body, but it was able to breathe with artificial assistance. The monkey lived for nine days until its immune system rejected the head. Although few head transplants have been carried out since, many of the surgical procedures involved have progressed. “I think we are now at a point when the technical aspects are all feasible,” says Canavero.

This month, he published a summary of the technique he believes will allow doctors to transplant a head onto a new body (Surgical Neurology International, doi.org/2c7). It involves cooling the recipient’s head and the donor body to extend the time their cells can survive without oxygen. The tissue around the neck is dissected and the major blood vessels are linked using tiny tubes, before the spinal cords of each person are cut. Cleanly severing the cords is key, says Canavero.

The recipient’s head is then moved onto the donor body and the two ends of the spinal cord – which resemble two densely packed bundles of spaghetti – are fused together. To achieve this, Canavero intends to flush the area with a chemical called polyethylene glycol, and follow up with several hours of injections of the same stuff. Just like hot water makes dry spaghetti stick together, polyethylene glycol encourages the fat in cell membranes to mesh.

Next, the muscles and blood supply would be sutured and the recipient kept in a coma for three or four weeks to prevent movement. Implanted electrodes would provide regular electrical stimulation to the spinal cord, because research suggests this can strengthen new nerve connections.

When the recipient wakes up, Canavero predicts they would be able to move and feel their face and would speak with the same voice. He says that physiotherapy would enable the person to walk within a year. Several people have already volunteered to get a new body, he says.

The trickiest part will be getting the spinal cords to fuse. Polyethylene glycol has been shown to prompt the growth of spinal cord nerves in animals, and Canavero intends to use brain-dead organ donors to test the technique. However, others are sceptical that this would be enough. “There is no evidence that the connectivity of cord and brain would lead to useful sentient or motor function following head transplantation,” says Richard Borgens, director of the Center for Paralysis Research at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.

If polyethylene glycol doesn’t work, there are other options Canavero could try. Injecting stem cells or olfactory ensheathing cells – self-regenerating cells that connect the lining of the nose to the brain – into the spinal cord, or creating a bridge over the spinal gap using stomach membranes have shown promise in helping people walk again after spinal injury. Although unproven, Canavero says the chemical approach is the simplest and least invasive.

But what about the prospect of the immune system rejecting the alien tissue? Robert White’s monkey died because its head was rejected by its new body. William Mathews, chairman of the AANOS, says he doesn’t think this would be a major problem today. He says that because we can use drugs to manage the acceptance of large amounts of tissue, such as a leg or a combined heart and lung transplant, the immune response to a head transplant should be manageable. “The system we have for preventing immune rejection and the principles behind it are well established.”

Canavero isn’t alone in his quest to investigate head transplants. Xiao-Ping Ren of Harbin Medical University in China recently showed that it is possible to perform a basic head transplant in a mouse (CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics, doi.org/2d5). Ren will attempt to replicate Canavero’s protocol in the next few months in mice, and monkeys.

The essence of you

Another hurdle will be finding a country to approve such a transplant. Canavero would like to do the experiment in the US, but believes it might be easier to get approval somewhere in Europe. “The real stumbling block is the ethics,” he says. “Should this surgery be done at all? There are obviously going to be many people who disagree with it.”

Patricia Scripko, a neurologist and bioethicist at the Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System in California, says that many of the ethical implications related to the surgery depend on how you define human life. “I believe that what is specifically human is held within the higher cortex. If you modify that, then you are not the same human and you should question whether it is ethical. In this case, you’re not altering the cortex.” However, she adds that many cultures would not approve of the surgery because of their belief in a human soul that is not confined to the brain.

As with many unprecedented procedures, there may also be concerns about a slippery slope. In this case, it would be whether this would eventually lead to people swapping bodies for cosmetic reasons. However, Scripko – who doesn’t believe the surgery will ever happen – doesn’t think this applies here. “If a head transplant were ever to take place, it would be very rare. It’s not going to happen because someone says ‘I’m getting older, I’m arthritic, maybe I should get a body that works better and looks better’.”

Unsurprisingly, the surgical community is also wary of embracing the idea. Many surgeons contacted by New Scientist refused to comment on the proposed project, or said it sounded “too outlandish” to be a serious consideration.

“This is such an overwhelming project, the possibility of it happening is very unlikely,” says Harry Goldsmith, a clinical professor of neurological surgery at the University of California, Davis, who has performed one of the few surgeries that enabled someone with a spinal cord injury to regain the ability to walk. “I don’t believe it will ever work, there are too many problems with the procedure. Trying to keep someone healthy in a coma for four weeks – it’s not going to happen.”

Nick Rebel, executive director of the US branch of the International College of Surgeons, says that although his organisation, along with the AANOS, is giving Canavero a stage, it is not sponsoring his ideas. “We’re creating a venue for him to launch the project. There will be a lot of top international surgeons at the conference and we shall see whether it is well received or not.”

Mathews is more enthusiastic about the project. “I embrace the concept of spinal fusion,” he says, “and I think there are a lot of areas that a head transplant can be used, but I disagree with Canavero on the timing. He thinks it’s ready, I think it’s far into the future.”

Canavero is philosophical. “This is why I first spoke about the idea two years ago, to get people talking about it,” he says. “If society doesn’t want it, I won’t do it. But if people don’t want it in the US or Europe, that doesn’t mean it won’t be done somewhere else. I’m trying to go about this the right way, but before going to the moon, you want to make sure people will follow you.”

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22530103.700-first-human-head-transplant-could-happen-in-two-years.html?full=true