The Story of the First Human Head Transplant Won’t Die

Stories about the first human head transplant operation, supposedly coming in December 2017, are circulating again. From a report on the Outline: But despite what you might have read or seen, humanity is not much closer to transplanting a human head to a new body than we were last year. Sorry to disappoint anyone looking to get their head transplanted. The story is based on the work of one man: Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero. Canavero started making headlines in 2013 with ambitious claims about the process he designed for a transplant of a human head — as in, moving a healthy human head from a subject with an unhealthy body to an otherwise-healthy, brain-dead donor body. Canavero’s claims have been alternately regarded as sensationalist, spurious, and ethically murky. Since then, the doctor has periodically resurfaced in the news. Once, when he found a willing patient in Valery Spiridonov, a Russian man with spinal muscular atrophy in the form of Werdnig-Hoffmann disease; other times when he published papers, including two proof-of-principle studies last year as well as articles reviewing preliminary work on animals relating to his proposed procedure. Though published in the internet-only journal Surgical Neurology International, an important distinction here is that none of these actually involve a successful full transplant of any kind despite his claim to have successfully transplanted a monkey’s head. The papers addressing work with animals are, broadly speaking, about treating spinal cord injuries and issues.


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