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First human head transplant by end of 2020?

Transplantation of tissue — including organs — from one human (or nonhuman) to another is an amazing advance in medicine that has now saved many lives. Complex organs including the heart and liver are now routinely transplanted, and in many cases even quite complex severed nerves can be reattached.

Much more audacious is the possibility of transplanting a human head. (Or should it be considered a full-body transplant?) The difficulties are obviously daunting: not just the spine, but major arteries, throat, etc., must all be reattached while keeping the brain alive.

Recently, the media has been abuzz with news that Sergio Canavero and his colleague Xiaoping Ren of China plan to transplant a human head from a living person onto a donor cadaver. The two surgeons — who portray themselves as pioneers defying a stodgy medical establishment but are considered reckless renegades by many peers — say the head donor will be someone with a degenerative disease, whose body is wasting away while his or her mind remains active.

The body donor, meanwhile, will likely be a someone who died of severe head trauma but whose body was left unscathed. The researchers claim to have been perfecting the technique on mice, a dog, a monkey, and, recently, a human cadaver. Originally, they predicted a fall 2017 transplant but now just say it is “imminent.”.

This same question was asked for 2017, which most then correctly predicted to be unlikely.

By the end of 2020, will a human head transplant operation be performed?

Resolution is positive regardless of the survival of the patient after the operation. Positive resolution requires the patient who provides the donor head to be alive right before the procedure: the patient providing the donor head should not be declared legally dead 48 hours or more before the transplant occurs.


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