Sergio Canavero set up a team to carry out head transplant (body transplant) procedure in China, working with Xiao-Ping Ren, an orthopaedic surgeon at Harbin Medical University who helped with one of the first hand transplants, in 1999.
“The team in China is ready to roll,” says Canavero, who worked as a neurosurgeon at Turin University Hospital in Italy until 2015. “All the preclinical and clinical studies have been conducted successfully.” Much of this work will not be published, he says, but insists that what will be published “will be more than enough to show where China stands”. The precise date of a transplant attempt depends on finding a donor of the right height, build and complexion, he says. “The problem now is only organizational.”
Canavero calls his proposed procedure the head anastomosis venture, or HEAVEN. He says it would begin by cooling the donor body and recipient’s head to delay tissue death. The heads would be detached and the donor body attached to the recipient’s head. Polyethylene glycol (PEG) would help fuse the cords by encouraging the fat in adjoining cells to mesh together. Stimulation from implanted electrodes would help to strengthen nerve connections.
C-Yoon Kim of Konkuk University in Seoul, South Korea, is part of Canavero’s group and has led animal experiments that use PEG to encourage regrowth of severed spinal cords
They published work on restoring movement in mice and another paper on restoring the spinal cord of a dog. The dog research paper has been highly criticized for lack of a control and lack of proof of the the 90% cutting of the spinal cord.
They plan to retain the donor brain stem and transplanting the recipient head. Their preliminary data in mice support that this allows for retention of breathing and circulatory function. Critical aspects of the current protocol include avoiding cerebral ischemia through cross-circulation (donor to recipient) and retaining the donor brain stem.
The procedure is also to minimally damage the spinal cords with ultra sharp blades.