How Is It Done
The donors body and the recipients head are cooled to prevent neuronal and tissue atrophy. The neck tissue is then dissected, the blood vessels are connected with tubes and the spinal cord is cleanly severed. The new head is placed on the donor body and the tissue and blood vessels are sutured after connecting the ends of the spinal cord from the recipient head and donor body. The patient is kept comatose throughout the procedure and the spinal cord is stimulated through electrodes.
Did The Worlds First Human Head Transplant Really Happen
Medical science has advanced by leaps and bounds in recent decades: No argument there.
Some illnesses which used to be fatal are now either curable or at least manageable. Medical procedures which once seemed like a figment of a researchers imagination have become a reality thanks to scientific and technological breakthroughs.
Naturally, these advancements extend to the field of organ transplantation. Today, we live in a world where a heart or a kidney transplant is nothing unusual. Of course, these are all extremely complex procedures , but teams of surgeons in various parts of the world are performing transplants every day. Needless to say, further landmark developments in medical science are not a question of when, not if.
However, if the statements of one neurosurgeon transplants are to be believed, medical science is ready to take a quantum leap forward with a successful human head transplant in the near future. If true, this shocking claim would catapult transplants back into the spotlight and front and center in the world of medical science as stunning, perhaps, as the discovery of DNA or cloning of mammals. It would be hard to find a similar precedent in all of science. This would rank right up there with Darwins theory of evolution, Einsteins theory of relativity or the apple falling on Sir Isaac Newtons head.
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Bio-ethicists have accused the noggin exchange surgeon of being reckless. Transplant surgeons say nobody has been able to repair a spinal cord that has been cut clean through.
But Canavero insists he has developed a way to coax axons and neurons to grow across the gap between the two severed spinal cords using a special glue-like substance developed by a B.C. researcher.
I understand humans love the gory side of the surgery, but this is a medical procedure for a medical condition for people who are suffering awfully, Canavero said. So, its not a joke.
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Although Some Neurosurgeons Are Gung Ho About The Possibility Many Ethical Questions First Need To Be Addressed
On January 20th, 1968, neurosurgeon Dr Raymond Newcombe wrote a letter entitled Brain Transplantation? to the editor of the British Medical Journal.
Noting that the ethics of brain transplantation had been raised in Any Questions on BBC Radio 1, Newcombe sneered that it was ridiculous and rather irresponsible for anyone to promote discussion of the ethics of a brain transplant . . . as the possibility was an enduring figment of the imagination.
The extent to which brain and even head transplantation is an enduring figment of the imagination may be inferred from the fact that technical procedures and associated ethics are now discussed in the pages of respected medical journals. For example, in 2016, the European Journal of Neurosurgery described, The history of head transplantation: a review, and this year the journal Philosophy, Ethics and Humanities in Medicineconsidered the ethical and legal issues surrounding head transplantation.
However, a human brain/head transplant to a live recipient has not occurred.
Dog head transplant
Transplanting a head entails severing the spinal cord, constituting a major challenge, but an encouraging development came with the application of so-called fusogens polymers like polyethylene glycol that can fuse cell membranes together. For example, in 2004 when paraplegic dogs were treated with PEG three days after their spinal cord injuries, half of them were able to walk within a fortnight.
Body/mind and identity
Can Frontal Lobe Be Transplanted
Fetal frontal neocortex from 18-day-old rat embryonic brain was transplanted into cavities in 30-day-old host motor cortex. The results indicate that fetal frontal neocortex can be transplanted into damaged rat motor cortex. The metabolic rate of the transplants suggests they could be partially functional.
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Autologous Stem Cell Transplant
Autologous stem cell transplantation is injection of your own stem cells into your blood or into your cerebrospinal fluid . Your CSF is the fluid that surrounds your brain and spinal cord.
Autologous transplant is often considered advantageous because your own cells are more readily available than donor cells, and because your immune system is unlikely to reject your own cells.
A Transplanted Organ Can Carry A Hidden Disease Along With It
Before transplant, organs are screened for common infections and diseases. This is to exclude any potentially dangerous contamination. And while transmitted infections are very rare, they are suspected in about 1 percent of transplant cases, though actually discovered in far fewer, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows. Donors are screened rigorously and infections can be treated well, says Dr. Klassen. Theres a risk-reward tradeoff, and its a relatively small risk, he adds.
West Nile virus and rabies are two examples of infectious diseases that have been transmitted via organ transplantation, the CDC data shows, and Klassen adds that rare cases of cancer from transplants have also been reported. And, as NBC News reported, an organ transplant patient contracted COVID-19 from the lungs of the donor, who had tested negative for the virus initially and didnt show any symptoms of the illness.
Doctors may have full knowledge of an infection in the organ before its set to be transplanted. Take hepatitis C. Fortunately, hepatitis C has become a curable disease within the last five years, so we can still utilize the organ of a person with hepatitis C, and then treat the recipient with hepatitis C medications.
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Are Human Brain Transplants Even Possible
- Michael Egnor
Earlier this week, I discussed the work of Dr. Robert White, a neurosurgeon in the mid-20th century who did extensive research on head transplants in animals. The operation sometimes worked, most notably in monkeys. But it has never been done in humans, mostly because head transplantation would mean cutting the spinal cord, which would cause complete and permanent paralysis.
The most reasonable perspective on the soul is that it is the active principle of the body that is, the soul is what the body does. Thus soul follows function. From this perspective, I infer that after a head transplant, I would see with my original eyes, hear with my original ears, etc. If I were able to move my transplanted body, whether it was my body or the donors body is a linguistic question, not a metaphysical question. We face the same essentially linguistic issue with transplants of other organs. If I get a kidney transplant, is the kidney mine or is it the donors kidney working in me? The answer is a matter of languagethe kidney is what I call it. The bottom line is that the kidney works there is no real metaphysical issue.
What would become of my soul and the souls of my neighbors if our brains were blended like this? I think there is an answer, and it has profound implications.
Our Creator surely knows the evil of which we are capable. Perhaps he builds in safety valves. He intends to protect us from the worst of our hubris.
Should We Grow New Brains
As for growing brains, Wolpe has a hard time seeing how you could justify it medically. Who do we grow a new brain for? Do we grow it for someone with Alzheimers? Do we grow it for someone with a severe brain tumor? I didnt need to ask him to speculate. Say you had a severe brain tumor, and I took a stem cell from you and I grew a new brain for you and got rid of your old brain and put in your new brain, none of you would be there. Your memories, your ideas, your thoughts, your thinking of your wife as your wife and your kids as your kidsits all gone, unless we can also transfer all your memories, thoughts, and ideas to a new brain.
So Im not even sure what a brain transplant means in that context, he continued. It means wiping the slate clean and now having a pre-birth-level brain in a 60-year-old person or whatever? Im not sure of the medical problem that that solves.
Would A Brain Transplant Change Your Personality
I’ve always wanted to know: if a brain transplant were possible, would the recipient take on the personality of the donor?
Stop right there, Cleona. In a brain transplant, whos the recipient and whos the donor?
Heres one way to think about it. Although a brain transplant at the moment is impossible, no doubt that wont always be so. What will probably become feasible first isnt a brain transplant but a head transplant.
This simplifies matters in two respects. First, on a practical level, it sidesteps the fantastically complicated project of reconnecting the brain to the multitude of sensory organs and blood vessels in the head. Second, and more important for present purposes, it goes a long way toward answering your question. While theres a lot about the brain we dont know, no one disputes that its the seat of consciousness. Whats more, the head as a whole contains most of the tools eyes, ears, speech apparatus, facial muscles that we use to interact with the world.
With that in mind, its obvious were not talking about grafting a new brain or head onto someones body were talking about grafting a new body onto someones head. The self that lives in that head remains the boss.
As for personality . . . well, thats a broader question, which well get to by and by.
Still, purely as a thought experiment, consider:
Then again, maybe John becomes psychotic due to the brain/body disconnect.
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2021 Update : The worlds first human head transplant has been carried out on a corpse in China, according to Italian professor Sergio Canavero.
During an 18-hour operation, experts demonstrated that it is possible to successfully reconnect the spine, nerves, and blood vessels of a severed head.
A similar operation on a live human will take place imminently, the controversial professor claims.
Professor Canavero, director of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group, made the announcement at a press conference in Vienna this morning.
The procedure was carried out by a team led by Dr Xiaoping Ren, who last year grafted a head onto the body of a monkey.
A full report of the Harbin Medical University teams procedure and a timeframe for the live transplant are expected within the next few days.
Speaking at the press conference, Professor Canavero said: For too long nature has dictated her rules to us.
'We're born, we grow, we age and we die. For millions of years.humans have evolved and 110 billion humans have died in the process.'That's genocide on a mass scale.'We have entered an age where we will take our destiny back in our hands.'It will change everything. It will change you at every level.'The first human head transplant, in the human mode, has been realised.'The surgery lasted 18 hours. The paper will be released in a few days.''Everyone said it was impossible, but the surgery was successful.'
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Transplant An Organ Why Not An Entire Body
On Dec. 23, 1954, a surgical team led by Joseph E. Murray of the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston performed the first successful human organ transplant in history. The operation in which a kidney was removed from the body of a healthy male patient and implanted into that of his ailing twin brother was a milestone in the annals of modern medicine, an achievement that at the time seemed like something out of science fiction. But one of the young doctors witnessing the operation that day harbored dreams of an even more ambitious coup than Murrays. Robert J. White, a 28-year-old resident in general surgery at Brigham, didnt see why he should be content replacing individual organs when he could theoretically replace all the organs at once by transplanting a sick patients head onto an entirely different body. This notion, hardly less bizarre-sounding today than it was in 1954, would become the goal White aspired to for the rest of his life.
Even more intriguing, however, are the philosophical issues raised by Whites work, and Schillaces book is most fascinating when discussing how he did and didnt address them. Moving a brain and the consciousness that goes with it from one body to another brings up fundamental questions about our notions of the self, the definition of death and even the ethics of immortality. Could it really be okay, as Schillace pithily asks, to take off someones head?
Mr. Humble and Dr. Butcher
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Outside contributors’ opinions and analysis of the most important issues in politics, science, and culture.
Recently, the media has been abuzz with news that Sergio Canavero of Italy and his colleague Xiaoping Ren of China plan to transplant a human head from a living person onto a donor cadaver. The two surgeons who portray themselves as pioneers defying a stodgy medical establishment but are considered reckless renegades by many peers say the head donor will be someone with a degenerative disease, whose body is wasting away while his or her mind remains active.
The body donor, meanwhile, will likely be a someone who died of severe head trauma but whose body was left unscathed. The researchers claim to have been perfecting the technique on mice, a dog, a monkey, and, recently, a human cadaver. Originally, they predicted a fall 2017 transplant but now just say it is imminent.
Canavero has moved the intended surgery to China because no American or European institute would permit such an operation. Western bioethicists needed to stop patronizing the world, he told the South China Morning Post. In contrast, he suggested, Chinese President Xi Jinping wants to restore China to greatness by providing a home for such cutting-edge work.
It is undeniable that the joining of a new head and body raises intriguing questions of personal identity, legal and social definitions of selfhood, and questions about the limits of science and medicine.
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Reasons For A Brain Transplant
The brain is composed of many different regions and cells. Neurons in the brain have dedicated functions, and they do not typically heal when they are damaged. Parkinsons disease, stroke, multiple sclerosis , epilepsy, Alzheimers disease, and head trauma are among the conditions for which brain cell transplant has been used for humans in an experimental setting.
Parkinsons disease is a degenerative condition in which neurons in the nigrostriatal region of the brain do not produce dopamine as they normally would. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that controls muscle function. These cells have been shown to degenerate throughout the course of the disease, causing tremors and slow physical movements. While medication to replace the action of dopamine has been effective in reducing symptoms of Parkinsons disease, there have been studies in which cells are transplanted into the brain to replace degenerated cells themselvesand, in some instances, the transplanted brain cells can make dopamine.
Alzheimers disease is a degenerative condition characterized by memory loss and behavioral changes. This condition typically develops after the age of 65 and it is characterized by degeneration of the cells of the hippocampus, a region of the brain that is associated with memory. There are no medications that can cure Alzheimers disease, and some attempts at hippocampal cell transplant have been initiated in animals.
Ethics And Popular Opinion
Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist, has written “Head transplants are fake news. Those who promote such claims and who would subject any human being to unproven cruel surgery merit not headlines but only contempt and condemnation.”
White became a target for protestors because of his head transplantation experiments. One interrupted a banquet in his honor by offering him a bloody replica of a human head. Others called his house asking for “Dr. Butcher”. When White testified in a civil hearing about Sam Sheppard‘s murder case, lawyer Terry Gilbert compared Dr. White to Dr. Frankenstein. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals described White’s experiments as “epitomizing the crude, cruel vivisection industry”.
In general the field of transplantation medicine has been met with resistance and alarm from some quarters as advances have been made Joseph Murray, who performed the first kidney transplant in 1954, was described as doing something unnatural or as playing God. These continued as other organs were transplanted, but perhaps became the most sharp as hand transplants and face transplants emerged in 1998 and 2005, as each of these are visible, personal, and social in ways that internal organs are not. The medical ethics of each of these procedures was extensively discussed and worked out before clinical experimental and regular usage began.
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