Head Transplant

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Over the years, humanity has witnessed the remarkable development of organ transplants with their different types. It is now familiar that an organ such as a kidney or a liver can be removed from a human body and transplanted into another body. There is a consensus on the high success rates of these operations, but probably the most significant scientific leap in this area is the “Head Transplant”.

The beginning of such a medical revolution was in the 20th century, when Dr. Alexis Carrel and Dr. Charles Guthrie performed the first head transplantation for a dog in 1908; they successfully decapitated a dog’s head and attached it onto the neck of another dog. Early after the operation, the dog showed reflex responses to simple effects as the sound of a hammer; however, the dog’s health conditions started to deteriorate and it was euthanatized a few hours later.

Another head transplant was performed in the 1950s by the Soviet Surgeon Dr. Vladimir Demikhov. Unlike his predecessors, he could maintain a vascular supply for the dog during the surgery, and, hence, could perform the first successful coronary bypass surgery in dogs. Yet, the dog soon died of deterioration in its immune and nervous systems. More surgeries were performed on animals at a high pace through the 20th and the 21st centuries.

It was not until 2016 that the first human head transplant took place, when Italian Surgeon Sergio Canavero announced that he could successfully perform the first human head transplant on a corpse in China, promising to perform the operation again on a living human being. Dr. Canavero’s announcement triggered a storm of controversy regarding the medical feasibility, in addition to the ethical side of such an operation.

The medical community met Dr. Canavero’s work with much criticism, ensuring that this operation is not and cannot be destined to succeed for several reasons. First, the head of the donor can only be preserved for only a few hours without a vascular and arterial network, whereas the transplant takes more than 18 hours. Second, it is highly expected that the body will reject the head as the immune system of the recipient body may attack it, threatening the success of the entire operation. Third, it is exceedingly difficult to reconnect the spinal cord between the head and the body. Last but not least, if the surgery somehow succeeded, it would leave extremely terrible psychological effects, as the mind would not be capable to respond to this radical change, which may lead to insanity.

Dr. Canavero has failed to face all the medical obstacles, and the human head transplant, until now, is still a dream without clear indication as to its feasibility. To date, the scientific community has not heard anything new from Dr. Canavero about another head transplant; however, science devotees all over the world are eagerly waiting for an unprecedented scientific endeavor for such an interesting topic.

References

downtoearth.org.in
express.co.uk
independent.co.uk
researchgate.net

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