World's First Head Transplant on Corpse a Success, Doc Says

Sergio Canavero says procedure on live patient will happen soon—but he has many doubters
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 17, 2017 10:18 AM CST
World's First Head Transplant on Corpse a Success, Doc Says
Sergio Canavero speaks to the media during a press conference on Friday.   (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)

The first step in what USA Today says would be an "audacious" therapy reportedly took place in China Friday: the world's first human head transplant, achieved with two corpses. And Sergio Canavero—the Italian doctor behind the alleged procedure, says he plans to do the same thing next on two brain-dead patients, followed by an "imminent" surgery with a living one, the Telegraph reports. Per Newsweek, Canavero described the procedure Friday at a Vienna press conference, explaining that his team had taken the head off one body and placed it on another, fusing the spine, blood vessels, and nerves. The procedure with a living patient is set to happen in China in December, mainly because the US and Europe refuse to host it. Medical experts say there haven't been enough studies or trials, and cite both ethical issues and the potential for "incredible pain."

Mystery surrounds the living patient at the center of the storm, whose healthy head would be transferred to the disease-free body of a brain-dead patient—technically making this a "body transplant," not a head transplant, USA Today notes. That recipient was originally said to be 33-year-old Russian Valery Spiridonov, who suffers from a muscle-wasting disease. But an April release cited by Newsweek said a Chinese citizen would undergo the procedure, not Spiridonov, and the magazine on Friday quoted Canavero as saying a "high number" of people have volunteered. Canavero gives the procedure a 90% chance of success. Meanwhile, a Guardian columnist takes issue with Canavero's work. "The human body is not modular," writes Dean Burnett. "You can't swap bits around like you would Lego blocks." (Canavero, way back when this all started.)

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