Two Surgeons Are Making Advancements In The Whole Head Transplant Department…

Hannah Bleau

This isn’t political, but I’m totally freaked out by it and can’t know about it alone, so here we are.

Two surgeons in China are trying to transplant a human head.

A jolt of electricity is delivered to a body with bolts attaching its head to its neck. It’s a scene straight out of a horror movie, but it is eerily close to Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero and Chinese surgeon Xiaoping Ren’s plan to transplant a human head — down to the neck bolts and electricity.

Canavero and Ren recently performed a trial run on two cadavers, prompting outrage from the medical community, which has declared human head transplantation “fake news.” An examination by a team of independent scientists published this month, however, suggests that, while fantastical seeming, the scientific and medical advancements necessary for human head transplantation are rapidly approaching plausibility. Nevertheless, major ethical and moral hurdles remain.

They’re actually doing this. It DOES sound straight out of a horror movie. Then again, you’re talking to a woman who gets dizzy just THINKING about going to the doctor.

Canavero has been talking up his plan for human head transplantation in TED talks and the media for decades, despite producing little in the way of scientific evidence, going so far as to announce in 2015 that he would perform surgery on a human volunteer — a young man withWerdnig-Hoffman disease, a degenerative disease where the muscles waste away — by 2017. The volunteer backed out, and the surgery still hasn’t been done on a living human, but Canavero maintains that it is “imminent.” Together he and Ren devised a procedure for head transplantation, which they performed in a handful of animal studies on micerats and a dog, all of whom shockingly survived the surgery and even regained some motor function.

Did you catch that part too? “The surgery still hasn’t been done on a living human…” What LIVING human would volunteer for that? Unless they’re referring to brain dead individuals, which still sounds completely messed up.

Wait wait wait. Get a load of the details.

While it sounds outrageous, keeping a detached human head alive is not the main stumbling block, and may even currently be possible. The unconscious head would be kept at a very cold temperature (50 degrees Fahrenheit) to mitigate against brain damage, and be hooked up to two pumps — one supplying continuous blood flow and the other oxygen.

An adhesive called polyethylene glycol will be used to connect the volunteer’s head with the spinal cord of the donor’s body. The plan is to induce the volunteer into a coma for a month while blood and new nerve networks rebuild in hopes that the body doesn’t reject the head — an inherent type of risk in all transplant procedures. In addition to the spine, the head will also have to be reconnected to airways, the esophagus and blood vessels.

GAGGING OH MY GOSH.

The major barrier is fusing the spinal cord of the head to that of the donor body. If not successful, the body would be paralyzed, a medical problem that still has yet to be solved. This is not the obstacle it once was, however.

Look. I know this is all about medical advancement and they probably have good intentions, but I’m totally freaked out by this and don’t even know if this is right from an ethics standpoint.

One glaring issue is the psychological repercussions. “We don’t know how the brain is going to react to having a different body,” Furr said. “Psychologically, we would expect there would be confusion,” as the transplant recipient must learn how to control their “new” body. On top of that, “how folks start to understand themselves is going to become complicated,” particularly as the percentage of “yourself” that is now “someone else” increases as transplant surgeries become more advanced, Furr said.

“Some folks are predicting catastrophe, that people will go mad,” Furr said. Although there undoubtedly would be difficulty adjusting and the need for extensive rehab, Furr doesn’t think that outcome is particularly likely. “History would tell us people would really be able to adjust,” Furr said. In research on face transplants, one of the surgeries that would seemingly affect one’s most intimate personal identity, for example, recipients (about 44 total so far worldwide) report that they have improved mental health, get outside more and quality of life in general post-surgery. In addition, pre-selection will be incredibly important.

Face vs. head. BIG friggin’ difference people.

I don’t know. This is freaky and weird, and I just couldn’t know about it alone.

As you were.

h/t NBC