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It appears to be a scene straight out of a sci-fi movie, but scientists claim that they have the technological know-how to carry out a head transplant. But with the ethical issues involved in it and a price tag of $10 million, will there be any takers?

It may sound like a preposterous idea but scientists believe that it may soon be a reality- Dr. Sergio Canavero from the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group has published a scientific paper in a recent issue of the journal Surgical Neurology International according to which it is possible to do a head transplant.

He has explained the procedure in detail and believes that, if carried out properly,

it may be possible for a person to live normally after getting a head transplant.

Until now, the biggest handicap in carrying out such an operation was that the surgeons could not connect the spinal cords of the donor and the recipient. So, the patient receiving the head transplant would have remained paralyzed below his neck. However, according to Canavero, if both the spinal cords are surgically severed using an ultra-sharp knife and then mechanically connecting them using special glue, it may be possible to achieve a complete connection.

Canavero has named the project as HEAVEN (Head Anastomosis Venture). Here is a brief description of the salient features of the project. The donor for the head transplant should be a brain dead patient who matches the recipient in height, built, sex and immuno-type. He should not be suffering from any systemic illness or brain disease.

Both the donor and the recipient should be in a same operating theater large enough to carry out two surgeries simultaneously. Tracheostomy is to be carried out on both the bodies and they are to be put on breathing machines. While one team removes the head from the donor, another team removes the recipient’s head after cooling it to a low temperature (10 degrees Celsius). Both the operations are to be carried out together. Once the recipient’s head has been removed, the donor’s head should be attached within an hour so that the circulatory flow is restored properly. The arteries and veins of the transplanted head should be anastomosed to the vessels of the new body.

Using an operating microscope, the spinal cords of both the patients are to be clean cut. The two cord stumps are then to be joined together using chitosan polyethylene glycol glue. According to Canavero, the clean cut allows the fusion of proximally severe nerve cells, called as axons, to the distal axons. The chitosan polyethylene glycol glue facilitates the fusion of the cell membranes of these axons in the absence of any endogenous mechanism to aid the healing. He has stressed the fact that this sealant has been used previously in dogs to fuse severed spinal cords.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • “HEAVEN: The head anastomosis venture Project outline for the first human head transplantation with spinal linkage (GEMINI),” by Sergio Canavero, published in the journal Surgical Neurology International in 2013, accessed on August 12, 2013
  • “First-ever human head transplant is now possible, says neuroscientist,” by Christopher Mims, published on July 1, 2013, accessed on August 12, 2013
  • “How to Perform a Head Transplant,” by James Hamblin, published on July 5, 2013 on the site, accessed on August 12, 2013.
  • Photo courtesy of ellajphillips by Flickr :
  • Photo courtesy of Simon Fraser University by Flickr :