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Complete Human Head Transplants May Soon Be Possible

Update Date: Jul 01, 2013 05:23 PM EDT

Imagine if you can switch bodies with the world's most eligible models and athletes. According to new research, that may soon be possible.

While complete head transplants are extremely complex and require mending back millions of nerve fibers, bones and tissue, new findings on spinal cord fusion suggests that human head transplants are well on their way.

A new paper published in the Surgical Neurology International looks at recent research in reconnecting spinal cords. In the paper, Sergio Canavero, a doctor at the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group, reveals a theoretical procedure he believes could make human head transplants a real possibility.

The procedure involves a very sharp cut right through the spinal column followed by mechanical fusion of the donor and recipient. The head and body would then be held together with plastics like polyethylene glycol (PEG). Canavero believes that a clean cut and tight fusion could allow the body to naturally repair the severed nerves.

"The greatest technical hurdle to [a head transplant] is of course the reconnection of the donor's (D)'s and recipients (R)'s spinal cords. It is my contention that the technology only now exists for such linkage," he wrote in the paper.

While head transplants have been carried out in the past, successfully connecting two separate central nervous systems has not yet been done. A famous 1970 experiment on rhesus monkeys revealed that while many organs of the monkeys became functional, the animals were paralyzed from the beck down due to an inability to properly connect the spine. Scientists said this was because they were unable to properly connect the spine.

In another more recent experiment involving sliced spinal cords, researchers at Case Western University and the Cleveland Clinic were able to restore signficant control in rats with cut spinal cords.

According to Popsci, the surgery was similar to the 1970 procedure on monkeys. Scientists brought the temperature of the body down as low as possible, triggered cardiac arrest and then reconnected the head with the body.

Researchers in the recent study were able to reconnect the circulatory system and restore a nervous system function. The spinal cord was mended together by scaffolding made of nerve fibers from the rat's rib cage. The scaffolding was then held in place with fibrin, a protein found in blood that induces clotting. Researchers then enhanced the healing process with a few other chemicals like chondroitinase ABC to prevent scarring, and fibroblasts to boost nerve growth.

The findings, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, revealed that the rats regained bladder control after six months. However, they never regained the ability to walk. Nonetheless, Canavero says that the findings published last week brings us one step closer towards successful head transplants.

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