Surgeons in China are planning the world’s first human HEAD transplant

Two surgeons in China are planning the world’s first human HEAD transplant to help paralysed patients walk again (but critics say their experiments have no scientific merit)

  • New technique comes from scientist Sergio Canavero and surgeon Xiaoping Ren
  • They will deliver an electric shock to a body with bolts linking its head and neck
  • Method could allow patients with spinal cord injuries and paralysis to walk again 
  • Professor Ren insists that although such work is ‘controversial’, it is necessary 
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It may sound like a scene from a horror movie, but two surgeons in China are developing a technique for the world’s first human head transplant.

Italian scientist Sergio Canavero and Chinese surgeon Xiaoping Ren plan to deliver a jolt of electricity to a body with bolts attaching its head to its neck.

They say the technique could let patients with spinal cord injuries and paralysis to walk again.

The pair recently sparked outrage when they claimed to have performed trial surgeries on two cadavers.

During an 18-hour procedure, Chinese surgeons showed it is possible to successfully reconnect the spine, nerves and blood vessels of a severed head, they said.

Many in the scientific community branded the experiment as having negligible scientific or medical merit and questioned the project’s ethics.

One Oxford University neuroscientist said attempting a live head transplant would be ‘nothing short of criminal’. 

In a new interview, Professor Ren, 56, insists although their new project is ‘controversial’, it is necessary to save people with ‘working brains whose bodies have died’.

That includes sufferers of neuromuscular degenerative diseases, multiple organ failure and end-stage cancer, he said.

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Two surgeons in China are developing a technique for the world’s first human head transplant. Italian scientist Sergio Canavero and Chinese surgeon Xiaoping Ren (pictured) plan to deliver a jolt of electricity to a body with bolts attaching its head to its neck


Italian professor Sergio Canavero (pictured) claimed that professor Ren had successfully carried out the world’s first human head transplant on a corpse in November. Many in the scientific community said the announcement was ‘fake news’

‘We have shown that with this technique, spinal perfusion is possible,’ Professor Ren told CNBC.

The project’s current focus is on people with paralysis and spinal cord injuries resulting from accidents or other causes, he added.

‘These patients don’t currently have good strategies, their mortality is very very high. So I try to translate this technique to benefit these patients,’ Professor Ren said.

‘That is my main strategy in the future.’

Professor Ren is a US-educated surgeon from The Second Affiliated Hospital of Harbin Medical University in north-west China’s Heilongjiang Province. 


Professor Ren (pictured with professor Canavero) insists although the project is ‘controversial’, it is necessary to save people with ‘working brains whose bodies have died’

WHAT DO SCIENTISTS THINK OF PROFESSOR CANAVERO AND HIS HEAD TRANSPLANT RESEARCH?

Italian scientist Professor Sergio Canavero is attempting to develop a technique to transfer someone’s head onto another person’s body. 

Following his announcement in November that he had experimented on cadavers, criticism poured in from the scientific community.

Dr James Fildes, NHS principal research scientist at the University Hospital of South Manchester’s Transplant Centre, said: ‘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.

‘Perhaps far more worryingly, this endeavour appears to revolve around immortality, but in each case a body is needed for the transplant, and therefore a human needs to die as part of the process. 

‘Where does Canavero propose to get the donor body from if the goal is to tackle the laws of nature? 

‘Has Canavero considered how he will tackle acute rejection of the constituent parts of the head? 

‘What will rejection of the skin, muscles, eyes, and brain manifest as? I hope this is not just egotistical pseudoscience.’

Dr Jan Schnupp, professor of neuroscience at the University of Oxford, added: ‘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.

‘As a neuroscientist, I would really quite like the general public to be reassured that neither I nor any of my colleagues think that beheading people for extremely long shot experiments is acceptable. It is not.’

His partner Professor Canavero, director of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group, has been talking up human head transplantation for decades.

The pair have presented little scientific evidence for their plan, but claim to have conducted several successful trials on mice, rats and a dog, all of whom reportedly survived the surgery and regained some motor function.

Professor Canavero maintains that, following trials on cadavers, surgeries on living humans are ‘imminent.’

The procedure involves keeping a severed head alive at extremely cold temperatures while two pumps provide it with continual flows of blood and oxygen.


Italian professor Sergio Canavero (file photo) announced in November that experts successfully reconnected the spine, nerves and blood vessels of the severed head of a cadaver in an 18-hour operation


While Professor Ren’s (pictured) work in animals is ‘pretty good science,’ the technique is not translatable to humans, according to Dr Mark Hardy, an expert on immunosuppresion and a pioneering transplant surgeon at Columbia University

Surgeons will use an adhesive called polyethylene glycol to connect the volunteer’s head with the spinal cord of the donor’s body, which will remain in a coma for a month while new nerve networks rebuild.

But while Professor Ren’s work in animals is ‘pretty good science,’ the technique is not translatable to humans, according to Dr Mark Hardy, an expert on immunosuppresion and a pioneering transplant surgeon at Columbia University.

He told CNBC that polyethylene glycol is toxic to humans, though ‘there are other ways’ of potentially reattaching the spinal cord.

Dr Hardy added head transplants may be possible ‘sometime in the next 10 to 12 years.’ 

HOW DO SCIENTISTS IN CHINA PLAN TO PERFORM A HUMAN HEAD TRANSPLANT?

It may sound like a scene from a horror movie, but two surgeons in China are developing a technique for the world’s first human head transplant.

Italian scientist Sergio Canavero and Chinese surgeon Xiaoping Ren plan to deliver a jolt of electricity to a body with bolts attaching its head to its neck.

Professor Ren is a US-educated surgeon from The Second Affiliated Hospital of Harbin Medical University in north-west China’s Heilongjiang Province.

His partner Professor Canavero, director of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group, has been talking up human head transplantation for decades.

The pair have presented little scientific evidence for their plan, but claim to have conducted several successful trials on mice, rats and a dog, all of whom reportedly survived the surgery and regained some motor function.

Professor Canavero maintains that, following trials on cadavers, surgeries on living humans are ‘imminent.’

The procedure involves keeping a severed head alive at extremely cold temperatures while two pumps provide it with continual flows of blood and oxygen.

Surgeons will use an adhesive called polyethylene glycol to connect the volunteer’s head with the spinal cord of the donor’s body, which will remain in a coma for a month while new nerve networks rebuild. 

Following Professor Canavero’s announcement in November that his team had experimented on cadavers, criticism poured in from the scientific community.

Dr James Fildes, NHS principal research scientist at the University Hospital of South Manchester’s Transplant Centre, said: ‘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.

‘Perhaps far more worryingly, this endeavour appears to revolve around immortality, but in each case a body is needed for the transplant, and therefore a human needs to die as part of the process. 

‘Where does Canavero propose to get the donor body from if the goal is to tackle the laws of nature? 

‘Has Canavero considered how he will tackle acute rejection of the constituent parts of the head? 

‘What will rejection of the skin, muscles, eyes, and brain manifest as? I hope this is not just egotistical pseudoscience.’


In May 2017, scientists carried out a head transplant on a rat in a practise run for controversial human experiment. In the disturbing experiment, researchers in China affixed the heads of smaller, ‘donor’ rats onto the backs of larger rats, that lived an average of just 36 hours

Dr Jan Schnupp, professor of neuroscience at the University of Oxford, added: ‘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.

‘As a neuroscientist, I would really quite like the general public to be reassured that neither I nor any of my colleagues think that beheading people for extremely long shot experiments is acceptable. It is not.’

Also in November the researchers claimed his team they had successfully conducted a head transplant experiment on a dog.

During the surgery the team resolved long-standing problems with the re-growth of spinal tissue – one of many complex hurdles to a successful head transplant.


Professor Ren (pictured with professor Canavero) claimed to have found a solution to help with the re-growth of the spine using a chemical compound, called polyethylene glycol

Professor Ren claimed that the dog’s spine was completed cut during the experiment, and his team successfully re-connected it with the spine in the new head using a chemical compound, called polyethylene glycol.

He claimed that the dog could start to walk two weeks after the operation and run two months after the operation.

One year later, the result of the experiment appeared ‘very good’, although Professor Ren admitted the animal’s walking and other movements were jerky.

He suggested the experiment could pave the way for human head transplants, but experts have raised doubts. 

Professor Ren and his team have carried out similar procedure on a mouse.

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