The first human head transplant could be just two years away

26 Feb 2015

Your body letting you down? Feel like a change? Well in two years’ time it could be possible to take your head and transplant it on another body, according to one neurosurgeon.

Despite the urge to just spend your time coming up with head-based puns, the concept of a head transplant is actually based off serious concerns where it could be an option for a person whose body might be failing them, particularly with regard to the spread of cancer.

According to New Scientist, the concept was first proposed by Sergio Canavero of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group in Italy in 2013 who says the two major complications with such a procedure – fusing a head onto another spine and stopping the body from rejecting its new host – are issues that can be overcome by 2017.

So how does he plan on achieving this?

First of all, according to the paper which Canavero published in Surgical Neurology International, both the head and the body would need to be cooled significantly to slow the rate at which the cells die before the major arteries and nerves are connected between the two.

The next step would be to sever the spinal cords in a bid to fuse it into one new spinal cord with the help of a chemical known as polyethylene glycol, which acts as a glue of sorts by inhibiting the fat contained in cell membranes to fuse.

Not science’s first attempt

Everything else would then be sewn up and connected before the patient is put into a deep coma for as much as seven weeks in order to help it fuse together, with the additional help of electricity to encourage nerves to develop connection.

According to Canavero, when all of this is said and done, it could take as much as a year with regular physiotherapy and anti-rejection medicine before the patient could walk again.

The actual procedure of attempting a head transplant has been attempted on animals in the past, most notably by Soviet scientist Vladimir Demikhov in 1954. He tried to transplant a dog’s head and forelegs on to the back of a larger dog, but unsurprisingly, both dogs only survived a week.

Head transplant image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic