A controversial scientist and his team claimed to have performed a successful head transplant on mice. Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero and colleagues were able to transplant a small rat head into a bigger rat sans blood loss or hypothermia.
Experts' Take On Head Transplant Surgeries
Canavero rose to fame because of his optimism over the possibility of doing head transplants. In 2015, he presented at the American Academy of Neurological and Orthopedic Surgeons conference an idea that, for him, could make possible head transplant surgeries.
Many of the scientists present at the conference were not convinced. Raymond Dieter, past president of the U.S. chapter of the International College of Surgeons, was critical of the technique citing that such an operation that involves the brain is far more trickier than open heart surgery because the brain can only survive for a few minutes without blood supply.
"Is it possible to transplant my brain into your body? No," said Dieter. "In three to five minutes, if we don't have circulation back to your brain, you're dead. When you look inside the skull, it's mush."
Last year, Canavero and his team claimed that a dog started to walk three weeks after its spinal cord was 90 percent severed, similar to what is seen in people who get stab wound to their spinal cord. The researchers claimed that the dog started to wag its tail, grab objects and resume a normal life two weeks after the experiment. They also published papers, which detailed the technique that they applied to the dog.
Researchers, however, expressed concern over the scientists' work citing that the papers do not support moving the technique to humans.
"The dog is a case report, and you can't learn very much from a single animal without controls," said neuroscientist Jerry Silver, from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. "They claim they cut the cervical cord 90 per cent but there's no evidence of that in the paper, just some crude pictures."
Transplanting A Rat's Head Into Another Rat
It appears though that Canavero is not deterred by his critics. In the new experimental work, he and other researchers transplanted a small rat's head into a recipient rat using a third rat as blood source during the procedure to prevent blood loss. The researchers said that no brain-damaging blood loss occurred during the entire operation.
The animals only survived for a while after the experiment but the work appeared promising enough for the researchers, Canavero already plans to move forward to testing the procedure on humans as early as December this year.
Despite the potential pain and danger involved in the procedure, Canavero said that there were a high number of volunteers from different parts of the world who want to take part in the operation. In 2015, a terminally ill Russian volunteered to become the first patient to have his head transplanted to another human body. The procedure that will be made possibly later this year though will involve a Chinese citizen.