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No ‘successful’ human head transplant – yet

The world’s first human head transplant has been successfully achieved, claims a post on the Facebook page Science Academy.

The post links to an article published on Science Insanity in January 2019. It’s been shared more than 1,000 times and sparked debate among Facebook users about the feasibility of such a transplant, and its implications.

The article claims the “successful” transplant of one person’s head onto another person’s body was carried out at the Harbin Medical University in China by controversial Italian neurosurgeon Dr Sergio Canavero and his partner, Dr Xiaoping Ren. But the patient, it turns out, was already dead.

Canavero reportedly said they were now ready to perform the surgery on a living person.

Canavero, Xiaoping and their team have previously grafted the head of one monkey onto the body of another and performed a similar operation on rats.

But attaching the head of one corpse to the body of another corpse does not make for a “successful human head transplant”. There is no evidence the surgery has been successfully performed on a living human. And experts say it probably never will.

Live human head transplant currently impossible

According to November 2017 articles in Fortune and the Guardian, obstacles to successfully transplanting the head of a living person include the current impossibility of connecting head and neck tissue, nerve cells and the spinal cord so they all work.

When the spinal cord is severed, the body is paralysed. The higher up in the spine the injury occurs, the more of the body that is paralysed. Medical science is still unable to reconnect the spinal cord in living patients.

Dean Burnett, a doctor of neuroscience, says Canavero has been “courting publicity” while at the same time avoiding scrutiny of his procedure by peers.

Head transplant in South Africa?

The claim of the “world’s first successful human head transplant” has been around for at least four years.

In April 2015, Snopes debunked a report of that such a procedure had been carried out in South Africa.

The transplant was said to have been successfully achieved on a 36-year-old man during a 19-hour operation at the country’s Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital. But the claim was false. – Allwell Okpi (12/04/19)


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