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Risky operation planned: Italian doctor wants to transplant head from Russians
The need of a Russian patient is so great that he agreed to a risky operation. A surgeon from Italy wants to transplant the head of a seriously ill man onto a “donor body”. This idea is not quite so absurd, as other doctors confirm. However, they still warn of the fatal consequences that can result from this.
Advances in transplant medicine
Transplant medicine has made tremendous progress in recent years. For example, successful face transplants have been carried out since 2010. Last year, doctors managed to sensationally transplant a skull cap. The first penis transplant was recently carried out in the USA and a womb transplant is planned for the first time in Germany.
The plans of an Italian surgeon are even more sensational: he wants to transplant a human head for the first time.
Human head should be transplanted
The message reminds a little of the famous film "Frankenstein", in which a researcher creates a new being from several body parts: The Italian neurosurgeon Prof. Sergio Canavero plans to transplant a human head for the first time in 2017.
According to his plans, the head of a sick patient should be cut off and placed on the healthy body of a brain-dead man in the first operation performed worldwide. Already last year Canavero told the science magazine "New Scientist": "I think we are now at the point that all technical aspects are feasible."
Rare gene defect patient
The 31-year-old Russian programmer Valery Spiridonov found himself a volunteer for the project. According to a report by "Spiegel Online", the Russian suffers from spinal muscular atrophy, a rare genetic defect that shrinks muscles and destroys nerves responsible for movement. Spiridonow is in a wheelchair, which he moves with a joystick. He doesn't know how much life is left.
Trials with animals
There have been several similar animal experiments in the past. For example, the Russian physician Vladimir Demikhov created a two-headed dog in the 1950s. And Professor Robert White of the Metro Health Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio, transplanted a monkey head in 1970. However, the experimental animals generally lived only a few days after the interventions.
In 2013, the Chinese Ren Xiaoping managed to transplant a mouse head. He explained that the Canavero experiment was based on his basic knowledge. "Last year he contacted me and asked for advice on the operation," said the researcher from the Chinese "Volkszeitung".
Monkey had to be put to sleep
According to “Spiegel Online”, Canavero reported in early 2016 that Ren Xiaoping had transplanted a foreign body to a rhesus monkey. The two doctors want to operate Spiridonow together. According to Canavero, the Chinese surgeon managed to restore the blood supply between the body parts so quickly that the monkey's brain was not damaged by lack of oxygen.
However, the monkey was unable to move its body after the operation. He had to be put to sleep after 20 hours. Since the study has not yet been published, critics doubt the seriousness of the information.
Critics were before the operation
Although my experts, Canavero and Ren will be able to manage the rejection reactions quite well with medication, they doubt that it will be possible to transplant the head without brain damage. For example, the secretary of the German Society for Neurosurgery, Veit Braun, told the news magazine "Spiegel Online": "I assume that there will be a stroke."
The biggest hurdle is probably to reconnect the severed nerve fibers in the patient's spinal cord. Canavero indicated that he could repair the injuries if he kept the damage to the nerves as low as possible with a straight, sharp cut.
He wants to fill the gap between the fibers with the chemical polyethylene glycol (PEG). In an experiment, this method had stimulated the nerve fibers of paraplegic rats to grow again. They were then able to move better than before, but their nerve fibers did not grow together.
"What Canavero is doing is going wrong, I told him so," Hans Werner Müller of the Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory at the University of Düsseldorf, who led the PEG study, told the magazine.
Living head that has no control over the body
Since Canavero also plans to cut the spine at a very high point, it would cut off the brain's control over breathing. "If everything goes well technically, you end up with a living head that has no control over your body," says Braun.
At the beginning of 2016, Canavero and Ren published a letter in the specialist magazine "Surgical Neurology International" in which they accused critics of judging the project without knowing anything about it. As the news magazine concludes, it will be impossible to carry out the operation unless the researchers succeed in convincing the community of facts.
But Canavero is convinced of his idea. "If people in the US or Europe don't want to do it, it doesn't mean it can't be done anywhere else," said the surgeon. (ad)