Human head transplant possible in 2017

Transplantation of a dog head by transplant pioneer Vladimir Demikhov in East Germany in 1959. Under Demikhov’s hand the dogs maintained full cerebral function but died shortly after the procedure.

Italian surgeon Sergio Canavero says it will be possible to transplant a severed human head on to a decapitated human body within about two years.

New Scientist reports that Canavero plans to announce the transplant project at the annual conference of the American Academy of Neurological and Orthopaedic Surgeons in Maryland in June.

Canavero, of the Turin Advanced Modulation Group in Italy, first proposed the procedure in 2013.

He says the surgery could be used in cases where a person’s body has been wasted away by cancer, or where the muscles and nerves have degenerated. He says problems such as how to fuse the spinal cord, or how to prevent the body from rejecting the head, can be overcome by as early as 2017.

A summary of the technique has been published in Surgical Neurology International.

“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.”

Neurologist and bioethicist Patricia Scripko from the Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System in California says:

“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’s ethical. In this case you’re not altering the cortex.”

But she adds that those cultures that believe the human soul also resides in the body would likely object to the procedure. Other surgeons are sceptical the operation would succeed at all.

Canavero says several people have already volunteered to have the procedure done. He predicts they will speak with the same voice and will be able to walk, with the help of physiotherapy, within a year. 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.

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