The date has been set for 2017. There is a first volunteer. And if things go as Dr. Sergio Canavero – a neuroscientist – plans, we will have the first successful human head transplant in history. Here are 5 reasons why he might actually succeed.
1. The successes of Dr. Robert White
There are a lot of similarities between monkeys and humans. Biologically, the differences are minimal. And so if a neurosurgeon was able to transplant a monkey’s head onto another, chances are that small improvements in the technology and methodology could make a successful human head transplant possible.
Dr. Robert White was able to successfully transplant a monkey’s head. He did this in 1970, with all the bad technology that was in place at the time. And what is more interesting was the fact that the monkey lived. It was able to smell, taste, hear and see. Those were successes!
Well, the monkey was paralyzed. And it only survived for 9 days because of immune system complications. But keep in mind that this was 1970. The technology that we have right now is robust enough to deal with the challenges of spinal fusion. And as for the immune system complications, Dr. Canavero and his group of experts believe that they have solutions: hypothermia, an ultra sharp surgical blade, and a 3-4 week coma. And also a little bit of electrical stimulation through implanted electrodes with the aim of encouraging proper fusion
2. Dr. Xiaoping And 1000 Mice
In medicine, lab testing usually starts with mice. They are a staple in most medical labs because of the biological resemblance with humans. They are a starting piece and successful testing with mice is usually a good sign.
That’s why the successes of Dr. Xiaoping is good news for Dr. Canavero and his head transplant ambitions. According to Medical News Today, Dr. Xiaoping has up to date conducted over 1000 head transplants on mice. 1000 is a huge number. A lot of heads too. And a lot of good news for Dr. Canavero since Dr. Xiaoping is part of a number of talented surgeons that will be helping him crystallize his ambitions into reality.
3. The potential benefits of human head transplant
The thing about possibilities what human beings are capable of doing to reach them is surprising.
It is easy to understand the benefits of such a procedure.
For the experts, the 150 or so surgeons who plan to participate, there is the prestige that comes from successfully doing such a procedure. Of being at the forefront. Of being remembered and of going down the history books as one of the greatest surgeons. It is sexy and attractive.
Investors also buy into the same dream. And it is no surprise that the two countries that are willing to fund the head transplant experiment are China and Russia – arms race, anyone?
And then there are the practical potential benefits of the problem. Take for example Spiridonov. He is suffering from spinal muscular atrophy. He can’t control his muscles. And with every waking breath, he knows that he is living on borrowed time. A head transplant could significantly change his life. And many more –that is if it is successful.
The practical benefits are attractive. The glory is attractive. All this translates to support that might prove instrumental in making a head transplant successful.
4. The Chinese Factor In The Human Transplant Game
You can imagine the furor that such a procedure would cause in America. And it won’t be just protests from people who are concerned about the ethics of conducting such a procedure – it’s literally beheading!
But thanks to China, these are obstacles that the good surgeon doesn’t have to deal with. China and Dr. Canavero have already inked a contract that will make the head transplant possible sometime in 2017.
The Chinese factor was such great news for the doctor that he had to disappoint Valeri Spiridonov – the Russian who was determined to be the first person to undergo a head transplant.
Sorry to the Russian. It turns out that a Chinese national will be first. This is all good news for Dr. Canavero for he gets two test subjects with possibly “I guess the second time’s a charm” balancing on his lips.
5. Support from leading medical professionals
When people in your field support your grand ambitions, you tend to seem less crazy. The “nuts” word used to describe you slowly transforms into “ambitious” or “brilliant”. And the more support you get, the more is likely to come your way. Investors too, which is very important given the level of expertise and money, $11 million per operation, needed.
Dr. Michael Sarr of Mayo Clinic, the chief editor of Surgery, the journal, has lent his support. Others too. And sure, the more like support he gets, the more resources he will receive, and the more support he will get – which all equals to increased odds of success.
As the doctor says: “The world is moving, the critics are dwindling. Of course, there will always be critics. Science teaches us that when you propose something groundbreaking, you must be confronted by criticism. If no critics really step forward, you are saying nothing special.”
But again, head transplant?! I shudder at the thought of some people getting their hands on that technology – think cartel and terrorists trying to beat facial recognition software.