SCIENCE

The World's First Head Transplant Only Two Years Away - Surgeon

  • Mary Nichols , Design & Trend Contributor
  • Feb, 26, 2015, 04:51 AM
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Head Transplant
(Photo : Getty Images/Dan Kitwood) The first human head transplant could happen in two years, according to one surgeon.

Doctors are preparing to undertake the world's first head transplant.

Italian surgeon Sergio Canavero wants to take the head from someone with an incurable illness and graft it on to a healthy body, writes the New Zealand Herald.

The surgeon claims that the first operation could be done as little as two years' time.

Initially, the $14 million body swap is intended to give a new lease of life to paralysed people - including those with spinal cord injuries similar to those sustained by the late actor Christopher Reeve.

The surgery could also be offered to people suffering from muscle-wasting diseases and for those with cancer.

People with motor neurone disease, the condition suffered by Stephen Hawking could also benefit from the surgery.

The technique could eventually be used to extend the life of healthy people in the "ultimate cosmetic surgery".

While critics have described the surgery as "pure fantasy", Dr Canavero claims all the necessary techniques exist and that he just needs to put them together.

It has been over 40 years since the first monkey head transplant and a basic operation on a mouse has just been done in China.

Dr Canavero already has a long list of potential patients, and will announce his plans at a top medical conference this summer in a bid to get the backing needed to do the first transplant in 2017.

The location has not yet been set for the groundbreaking surgery, but the surgeon, from the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group, says he would love to do it in London.

The new body would come from a normal transplant donor who is brain dead.

The donor and the patient would have their head severed from their spinal cord at the same time - using an ultra-sharp blade to ensure a clean cut.

The patient's head would then be placed on to the donor's body and attached using a "glue" called polyethylene glycol - fusing the two ends of the spinal cord together.

The muscles and blood supply would be stitched up, before the patient is put in a coma for four weeks to stop them moving while the head and body heal together.

The patient would then be given small electric shocks to stimulate their spinal cord and strengthen the connections between their head and new body.

When the patient is brought out of their medically-induced coma, they should be able to move, feel their face and even speak with the same voice, New Scientist reports.

Powerful immunosuppressant drugs should stop the new body from being rejected and intensive psychological support would also be provided.

Dr Canavero says he believes it would be ethically sound to carry out the procedure when people have no other hope of a cure.

However, the ethical arguments go beyond just looking at the transplant.

If the patient went on to have children, they would biologically belong to the donor because the sperm or eggs would have come from the new body.

William Matthews, chairman of the American Academy of Neurological and Orthopaedic Surgeons, said: "I embrace the concept of spinal fusion and I think there are a lot of areas that a head transplant could be used but I disagree with Canavero on the timing.

"He thinks it's ready, I think it's far into the future."

However, Harry Goldsmith, a California doctor who has carried out one of the few operations that has allowed someone with a spinal cord injury to walk again, said: "I don't believe it will ever happen."

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