The world’s first human head transplant has been carried out on a corpse, it was claimed yesterday.
During an 18-hour operation, doctors in China showed that it is possible to reconnect the spine, nerves and blood vessels to a severed head.
Controversial Italian neurosurgeon Professor Sergio Canavero, who announced the breakthrough, said an operation on a living human was now ‘imminent’. The next stage is a ‘full head swap’ between brain-dead organ donors – which British scientists said would be extremely difficult and ‘nothing short of criminal’.
The Chinese head transplant was performed on two human corpses by a team led by Dr Xiaoping Ren, an orthopaedic surgeon from Harbin Medical University.
Last year he decapitated two rhesus monkeys and connected the head of one to the other’s body. The date for the first live human head transplant is due to be announced in the next few days by the Chinese team, who will also release an academic paper on their operation on corpses.
Their aim is to use the procedure to help people with long-term medical conditions. The first human head transplant is expected to be carried out on a Chinese volunteer with paralysis. Speaking at a press conference in Vienna, Professor Canavero said: ‘The first head transplant on human cadavers has been done. A full head swap between brain- dead organ donors is the next stage. And this is the final step for the formal head transplant for a medical condition.’
The professor, who wants head transplants to help people live beyond 120, added: ‘For too long, nature has dictated her rules to us. We are born, we grow, we age and we die. For millions of years humans have evolved and 110billion humans have died in the process. That’s genocide on an unprecedented level.’ Professor Canavero was described as a modern- day Frankenstein in 2015 when he said he would be ready to transplant a human head within two years.
British experts were unimpressed by yesterday’s announcement. Dr James Fildes, NHS principal research scientist at the transplant centre of the University Hospital of South Manchester, said: ‘To surgically attach a dead head on to a dead body warrants no publicity and is not a head transplant. ‘His next goal, to transplant the head from a brain-dead donor on to the body of a brain-dead donor, again will not be a head transplant.
‘Unless Canavero or Ren provide real evidence that they can perform a head, or more appropriately, a whole-body transplant on a large animal that recovers sufficient function to improve quality of life, this entire project is morally wrong.’ Jan Schnupp, professor of neuroscience at the University of Oxford, said: ‘Professor Canavero’s enthusiasm notwithstanding, I find it inconceivable that ethics committees in any reputable research or clinical institutions would give a green light to living human head transplants in the foreseeable future. ‘Indeed, attempting such a thing given the current state of the art would be nothing short of criminal.’