Here's Why People Are Talking About Head Transplants Again

There was NOT a successful Human Head Transplant

Over the last few years, a news story referring to a head transplant has popped up again and again but does not have a lot of facts to back it up. Back in 2015, an Italian neurosurgeon named Sergio Canavero made the claim that by the year 2017 he would be able to successfully transplant the head of one person onto the body of another. So many questions, right? Like - WHY?

 

Well, the reasoning behind the claim is to give a patient a new lease on life. Take someone with a degenerative muscle disease or someone who has a body riddled with cancer. Well, you could pop their head off and install it on a fully functional donated body. Seems easy right? But the ramifications get tricky from there, and the science involved in the procedure is borderline science fiction still.

Some things in our bodies are relatively easy to transplant, given the medical science and know-how. Heart and lung transplants are more commonplace today than 100 years ago, and recently even a functioning human hand was transplanted onto another person. But the head would be incredibly complex because reattaching the spinal cord is not only hard, it is near impossible and has never been successfully done. 

Also, the procedure of transplanting a head from one body to another requires the donor's head and another donor's body to be cooled down and placed in a coma for up to four weeks. Then, even if all goes according to Dr. Frankenstein's plan, the patient with a brand new body would have to go through a year of physical therapy to learn how to walk again. All of this doesn't even scratch the surface of the mental trauma one would endure getting over the fact that everything from the neck down isn't really you.

Scary stuff right out of a monster movie for sure - but why is this story making headlines again? Well, Sergio did perform the procedure somewhat on two cadavers, which is actually a normal medical trick: practice on the dead before you try it on the living. But this "head transplant" only proved he could reattach the nerves and blood vessels on a broad scale. It did not reattach the spinal column and all the nerves attached to that and it certainly did not prove that the patient would not be brain dead after the procedure.

Tune in to this week's Fueled by Death Cast to hear more about this story from Jeff and Dustin in the science segment.  

 

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