Head transplant in humans: what does science say?

The first will take place in December 2017 head transplant in a human.


Although we are in a time of great change, it is difficult to believe that the head of one person can be transplanted into the body of another.

However, as early as the twentieth century, several scientists investigated the issue. The first was the Soviet scientist Vladimir Demijov who in 1954 transplanted the head and front legs of a puppy into the body of an adult German Shepherd. The intervention dog survived less than a week.

Subsequently, some Cleveland researchers, led by Robert J. White and inspired by Demijov’s work, they transplanted the head of one monkey into the body of another. In this case, the result of the intervention was quite successful, because the monkey was able to smell, love, smell and observe the world around him. However, in return, he was paralyzed from the neck down. As in the first case, the monkey barely survived two weeks.

Finally, a Chinese researcher named Xiaoping ren he performed a similar experiment with rats, which managed to survive one day.

What does the operation consist of?

It was stipulated that the operation it will last approximately 36 hours and will include the participation of more than 100 surgeons. In addition, the operation is expected to cost around $ 11 million.

The aim of the operation is none other than connecting the head of one patient to the body of another. An important fact is that the receiver will not be able to choose the body. Some sources reveal that a person who has suffered an accident or has been sentenced to death will be selected.

As for the specific details of the neurosurgery and although little information has transpired, it is known for certain that they will first have to cut all the structures that connect the patient’s head to the body, including the spinal cord which contains around 20 million connections. The union they will need to make to reestablish connections with the new body will be made using a chemical called polyethylene glycol, which helps rebuild bones and nerve fibers.

Sergio Canavero, the Italian neurosurgeon who will lead the operation, says two years is enough to verify all scientific calculations and complete all permits, including approval of the procedure by various bioethics committees.

The attitude of the scientific community towards this intervention is divided into two. On the one hand, some researchers consider it to be a Canavero illusion that they describe as crazy. On the other hand, other scientists support it and believe that the intervention will represent a door to the future.

Characteristics of the body receptor

Since the procedure has been tested on animals in the past with generally poor results, it’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to go through it voluntarily.

Valeri Spiridónov it’s the name of a man who suffers spinal muscle atrophy (AME), a serious degenerative genetic disease that prevents you from moving your limbs except your hands and head. Typically, 50% of children born with this disease do not reach the first year of life. However, Spiridonov is already 30 years old.

As he explains, the operation is his only way out. “I have to do this because I don’t have a lot of options. My decision is final and I have no intention of changing it,” says- he. The operation, if successful, it could provide a body with which to perform functions such as walking and grasping things, among other motor functions.

possible consequences

We are talking about a head transplant. Although there has not been much debate on the impact and psychological consequences that such an intervention can provoke, I think it is important to mention certain aspects and to expose some questions which lead to the reflection of the readers.

One of the aspects to consider is the longevity of the people. It is true that over the past decades, the life expectancy of people has increased dramatically. But how does the fact that some people live an average of around 80 years and that will affect everyone? others thanks to the live intervention 120?, What changes will occur in society as a result of living longer?

The ethical debate comes into play

This is what the neurosurgeon Canavero emphasizes, who raises great expectations about the procedure: “We are on the verge of indefinitely prolonging life, because I will be able to give an 80-year-old man a new body to live on.” years older. “

On the other hand also there is doubt about the selection of future recipients. Canavero said that in principle the operation will only be carried out with people who have no other way out, people with diseases or pathologies that prevent them from moving normally. However, the neurosurgeon also revealed that he already has 50 candidates ready to transplant his head and most of them are transsexuals. So where is the limit set ?, What criteria will be followed to select one person before another ?, Will these people enter transplant waiting lists or follow an independent line?

Towards a future of tailor-made bodily changes?

Another equally relevant aspect is the psychological impact which may result in bodily changes for the patient, family and friends. It was talked about and the neurosurgeon said that “the patient will undergo training with the help of psychologists. For at least six months, before the operation, glasses will be placed to show his head with a new body.” Will this training with glasses be enough to avoid psychological rejection? Will she be the first patient to have a hand transplant in 1988 who, two years later, asked to have it cut? Can the psychological rejection of seeing into a new body be overcome?

Regarding the psychological consequences, another fact that Canavero revealed to us is that in the event that the patient already operated on decides to have children, the body cells of these will contain DNA from the donor body. In other words, children will be born genetically similar to the body but not to the head of the patient.

This could lead us to a world where children don’t have to own the genes of biological parents.

A medical possibility that must open a debate beyond the scientific

In short, I personally think it is important to ask questions about the intervention and the changes it can bring to the whole planet. How can these changes affect people at the nomothetic and ideographic levels?

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