Are We Ready for a Human Head Transplant?

Are We Ready for the First Human Head Transplant?

Valery Spiridonov, a 30-year-old Russian who has a degenerative muscle condition known as Werdnig-Hoffman, wants to become the first person to undergo a human head transplant. It would be performed by an Italian neurosurgeon, Dr. Sergio Canavero, who says he believes he has a 90 percent chance of success. Spiridonov attends a news conference in Vladimir, Russia, June 25. This article first appeared on The Conversation . In a 1978 essay titled ” Where Am I? ” the philosopher Daniel Dennett suggested that the brain was the only organ of which it’s better to be a transplant donor than recipient. Now Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero wants to turn philosophical thought experiments into reality by transplanting the head of Valery Spiridonov , who suffers from a debilitating muscle wasting disease, onto the healthy body of a dead donor. Beside posing questions about personal identity , there are more prosaic challenges that must first be overcome. The brain would have to be kept alive during surgery by cooling it to 10-15°C, and the immune system would need to be powerfully suppressed to prevent transplant rejection. But the greatest hurdle may be how to restore connections to the spinal cord. Without this connection the brain would have no control of its new body. In 1970, Robert White at Case Western Reserve University performed a head transplant using monkeys. Without spinal connections the animal was paralyzed from the neck down for the brief time it could be kept alive. Canavero believes the time is right to revisit this controversial procedure, due to recent advances in surgical techniques and scientific understanding. He hopes that his “ GEMINI ” protocol—combining polyethylene glycol to fuse nerves with electrical stimulation of spinal circuits—will allow his patient to move and even walk following the procedure. Breakthrough or spin? […]