*Potentially graphic images below*
In the future, this may be considered a milestone moment for humanity. The ability to transplant successfully a head is the work of science fiction. Imagine Frankenstein’s monster without the need for bolts in the sides of its neck. A neurosurgeon operating out of China plans to make that dream a reality later this year. For the time being, however, he’s perfecting his technique by making two-headed rats.
For a number of years, a team of researchers has been trying to perfect head grafting. Operating out of China’s Harbin Medical University, they built on the work of other scientists who attempted the procedure on dogs and monkeys. Those studies produced mixed results and no patients that lived longer than 24 hours. They did, however, provide important observations into ways to control the blood flow to the brain during the transplant. This process is known as neural preservation.
Sergio Canavero, the neurosurgeon scheduled to complete the first human head transplant, led the team working in China. Their experiments involved three rats: one small and two large. The smaller rat provided the donor head researchers grafted onto the head of one of the larger rats. The third rat served as the blood supply for the head during the procedure. A silicon tube connected the head’s blood vessels to the veins of the third rat and passed through a peristaltic pump.
Once the second head was attached onto the rat’s body, vascular grafts were used to connect the carotid artery and the thoracic aorta. The team’s research paper in CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics reports there was no damage to the transplanted brain tissue. Additionally, the attached head continued to have eyes that blinked and nerves that could feel pain. There were a series of these tests. On average, the two-headed rodents survived 36 hours.
Almost all people in the medical field disagree with Dr. Canavero’s plan for a similar procedure on a human later this year. Both neurosurgeons and medical ethics specialists decry any such procedure as premature, reckless, nuts, and “worse than death.” Nevertheless, Valery Spiridonov, a paralyzed man from Russia who is in a wheelchair, has already volunteered for the procedure. Furthermore, in preparation for this type of transplant becoming widespread, Canavero developed a virtual reality system to help patients adjust to “life in a new body.”