Neurosurgeon Says First Human Head Transplant Could Happen by 2017

Posted on March 3, 2015

Dr. Sergio Canavero believes a human head transplant could work as early as 2017. Dr. Canavero is with the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group in Italy. He thinks modern medicine is nearly ready to overcome the hurdles needed to make a successful human head transplant a reality.

An article in New Scientist discusses the possibility of a human head transplant and what it would entail. It says Dr. Canavero believes the transplanted head can be fused to the spinal cord of the donor body. He also thinks it will be possible to prevent the body's immune system from rejecting the new head.

The New Scientist story also mentions a couple gruesome head transplants conducted on animals. A puppy's head was transplanted onto a larger dog in Soviet experiments in the 1950s. The longest the dogs survived was six days. Another experiment involved monkeys. In this 1970 experiment at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio a monkey lived for nine days after a head transplant before dying when the head was rejected by the body's immune system.

A summary of Dr. Canavero's technique for spinal cord fusion of a new head was published here in Surgical Neurology International. The technique includes using a substance called polyethylene glycol to help fuse the spinal cord connections between the head and body. The patient would be kept in a coma for three to four weeks. Dr. Canavero thinks a patient could walk within a year of the surgery through physiotherapy.

Even if the medical problems of a head transplant are completely solved the surgery will still raise many ethical concerns. Dr. Canavero talks about transplanting heads in the Sky News interview below. He says he doesn't believe it is impossible and mentions the widespread doubt before the Wright brothers took flight. The video also includes diagrams showing how the surgery would work. Take a look: