Sunday 25 August 2019

The world's first human head transplant has been successfully completed

Professor Sergio Canavero speaking on Good Morning Britain last year.
Professor Sergio Canavero speaking on Good Morning Britain last year.

Sarah Knapton

he world's first human head transplant has been carried out on a corpse in China in an 18-hour operation that showed it was possible to successfully reconnect the spine, nerves and blood vessels.

At a press conference in Vienna on Friday morning, Italian Professor Sergio Canavero, director of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group, announced that a team at Harbin Medical University had "realised the first human head transplant" and said an operation on a live human will take place "imminently".

The operation was carried out by a team led by Dr Xiaoping Ren, who last year successfully grafted a head onto the body of a monkey.

Prof Canavero, said: "The first human transplant on human cadavers has been done. A full head swap between brain dead organ donors is the next stage.

"And that is the final step for the formal head transplant for a medical condition which is imminent.

Prof Canavero shocked the world in 2015 when he said that he would be ready to transplant a human head within two years.

Although Russian computer scientist Valery Spiridonov, who suffers spinal muscular atrophy, had volunteered to become the first head transplant patient, the team have since said the first trial is likely to be carried out on someone who is Chinese, because the chance of a Chinese donor body will be higher.

Prof Canavero said a "high number" of people had already volunteered for the transplant.

Speaking at the press conference, Prof 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 has evolved and 100 billion humans have died. 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 paper will be released in a few days. Everyone said it was impossible. But the surgery was successful."

Prof Canavero said scientific papers detailing the procedure, as well as more details of the first live human transplant would be released within the next few days.

Prof Canavero said it had been "one hell of a ride" since first formulating the idea of a human head transplant while on a canoeing holiday in Glasgow.

Experiments have already been carried out on mice, rats, dogs and primates that had shown that it was possible to restore motor function after reconnecting a head to a different body.

But Prof Canavero said the team had struggled to protect the brain for the length of time that an operation takes.

He originally estimated that the operation would required 36 hours of surgery, but said the Chinese team had managed to halve that estimate.

Although it is unclear how the team tested spinal and motor function in a dead body, it is possible they applied an electrical current to check signals were being received below the transplant.

"We were told it couldn't be done, because people said 'you will cut off a lot of important nerves in the neck', so we spared those nerves," he said.

"After several transplants, the first full rehearsal has taken place in China. The surgery lasted 18 hours. I mentioned in 2015 that it should take 36 hours, but the Chinese improved on that in a spectacular way, and the surgery was successful.

"The next step is a full head transplant on brain dead organ donors and the first human head transplant for medical reasons will take place imminently. The date will come from  Xiaoping in the next few days."

However, Prof Canavero said his ultimate goal was to transplant a human brain into a donor body, and he told reporters he would be announcing details of his plans for the first brain transplant within months.

He said he had become interested in the idea after Russian billionaire Dmitry Itskov announced plans in 2011 to transfer a human brain into a cyborg body by 2045.

"My primary goal was not a head transplant, it was a brain transplant," he said. "The goal of China is to treat incurable medical conditions. My goal is life extension, because I believe ageing is a disease which must be treated.

"Over the next few months I will be releasing a series of technical papers will tell you all how this is possible."

Details of the first human head transplant are expected to be published in the journal Surgical Neurology International within days.

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