A head transplant may soon cease to be a science-fiction idea and become a medical and scientific fact. According to the neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero, he is planning such an operation before the end of this year.
All ethical and moral doubts aside, a successful head transplant would certainly be a turning point in the history of medical science. So the world holds its breath, waiting to be informed whether the operation will be successful and what its effects will be.
In April 2017, in an interview with the German portal Ooom, Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero announced that the first-ever head transplant in a living patient would take place within the next 10 months.
A few months earlier, the name of the first volunteer was known. It was Valery Spiridonov, who, however, eventually gave up participation in the experiment. At present, it is known that the first “Frankenstein of the 21st century” is to be an anonymous patient from China.
A neurosurgeon’s dream, a challenge to the scientific world
Of course, the key word here is “successful transplant”, as many previous animal trials have failed. Dr. Canavero explains that so far he did not have the appropriate technology to carry out such an operation.
Today, technology is no longer an obstacle, and more and more highly qualified specialists are involved in the project, and more resources have been committed to it. It all affects the increasing chances of success.
On the other hand, there are constantly voices of moral doubts about the experiment. Much of the scientific community is against the creation of what they call it “Frankenstein of the 21st century.”
The first experiment of this type took place in the 1970s. Dr. Robert White – who was carrying out the transplant at the time – was not able to do the most important thing. Namely, he failed to connect the elements of the nervous system efficiently.
Head transplant: crazy idea or coming reality?
If nothing changes, the first head transplant in a living patient will take place before the end of 2017. According to Dr. Canavero, successful surgery is a hope for many patients around the world. Here are the two main arguments the doctor makes for his experiment:
- A head transplant to a new body is a chance for paralyzed people to regain physical fitness and mobility.
- Gaining a new body is also an opportunity for people struggling with the degeneration of the nervous system, cancer or many other deadly diseases.
Contrary to these arguments, there are of course ethical and moral as well as religious doubts. The scientist, however, does not hesitate to pursue his dream despite them.
A new patient, a new date, a new stage of research
Until now, the patient “0” was Valery Spiridonov, a man suffering from muscular atrophy, a disease with little chance of survival. After two years of working with Dr. Canavero, Spiridonov did not receive the guarantee he cared about the most.
The doctor could not promise the volunteer the most important thing – that he would be able to walk again and lead a normal life. He could not even promise him that the operation would be successful and the patient would survive.
So the Russian decided to use more conventional methods of treatment, which may allow him to fight pain more effectively and lead a dignified life. In the meantime, after Spiridonov’s resignation, another volunteer came to Dr. Canavero, thanks to whom the project could be continued.
China offered support for the project, and it was announced at a press conference that a hospital had also been designated where the landmark operation would take place.
So far, no exact date has been announced when the transplant will take place. However, it is known that the operation will last at least 72 hours.
As scientists say, the risk of transplant rejection is negligible because we are talking about a “neutral” organ as opposed to the kidneys, heart or liver. Doctor Canavero and his team are high-class specialists who are very involved in the project.
The only thing left for us to do is to wait for the effects of their work and to wonder what consequences for medicine and science will both the success of the project and its possible failure bring.