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Medicine

Neuroscientist: First-Ever Human Head Transplant Is Now Possible 522

Posted by timothy
from the no-I-insist-after-you dept.
dryriver writes "Technical barriers to grafting one person's head onto another person's body can now be overcome, says Dr. Sergio Canavero, a member of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group. In a recent paper, Canavero outlines a procedure modeled on successful head transplants which have been carried out in animals since 1970. The one problem with these transplants was that scientists were unable to connect the animals' spinal cords to their donor bodies, leaving them paralyzed below the point of transplant. But, says Canavero, recent advances in re-connecting spinal cords that are surgically severed mean that it should be technically feasible to do it in humans. (This is not the same as restoring nervous system function to quadriplegics or other victims of traumatic spinal cord injury.)"
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Neuroscientist: First-Ever Human Head Transplant Is Now Possible

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  • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot@@@hackish...org> on Tuesday July 02, 2013 @12:13PM (#44166729)

    I suppose it depends on whether a larger proportion of personal distinctiveness resides above or below the neck, but I would guess it's closer to a head getting a body transplant, than to a body getting a head transplant.

    • by ducomputergeek (595742) on Tuesday July 02, 2013 @12:18PM (#44166821)

      More over I thought the largest problem today is the fact that our bodies are outliving our minds as more people develop diseases like dementia and Alzheimer's.

      • by i kan reed (749298) on Tuesday July 02, 2013 @12:24PM (#44166911) Homepage Journal

        Our hearts are the first critical thing to go, more often than anything. It's like a metaphor, really.

        • by h4rr4r (612664) on Tuesday July 02, 2013 @12:28PM (#44166955)

          Or like a terrible pump design. Intelligent design my ass, more like idiotic design.

          • by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Tuesday July 02, 2013 @12:40PM (#44167137) Homepage Journal

            Or like a terrible pump design. Intelligent design my ass, more like idiotic design.

            Better than anything you've come up with... :P

            • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

              He might be an industrial pump designer. Those things can easily outlast a human heart.

              • and how much energy does a industrial pump run on? and are they self repairing?

              • by BitZtream (692029) on Tuesday July 02, 2013 @01:12PM (#44167659)

                Yet no one has designed an industrial pump that can perform at the level the heart does ... with the energy usage a heart has, for as long as it has.

                So in short, no, no they haven't made something 'better' than a human heart in any way.

                Show me a 120 year old unserviced pump please.

                • by smaddox (928261)

                  There are no demands for an industrial pump with such a low rate or the ability to last 120 years. If there were, perhaps someone would have made one by now.

                  Also, the heart is not unserviced. In fact they are continually serviced. I'm not sure the exact turn over, but at least over 10 years every cell in your heart is replaced.

                  • by Dcnjoe60 (682885) on Tuesday July 02, 2013 @03:53PM (#44169707)

                    There are no demands for an industrial pump with such a low rate or the ability to last 120 years. If there were, perhaps someone would have made one by now.

                    Also, the heart is not unserviced. In fact they are continually serviced. I'm not sure the exact turn over, but at least over 10 years every cell in your heart is replaced.

                    Well then show me a self-repairing pump that doesn't need external maintenance. One that can get the materials it needs from it's surroundings without doing harm to those surroundings, all while not having to shut down for the maintenance to take place.

                  • There are no demands for an industrial pump with such a low rate or the ability to last 120 years.

                    Sure there are. Off the top of my head, the most obvious is an artificial heart, which you seem to have conveniently neglected to consider. With the millions of people suffering from heart disease right now, an artificial heart with those specifications would be a miracle device, and there's been plenty of research into the field, yet no one has managed to do as good as a normal, organic one just yet.

              • by ultranova (717540)

                He might be an industrial pump designer. Those things can easily outlast a human heart.

                That poor bastard must have died young indeed.

          • Terrible pump design? Show me a human designed pump that can operate for ~100 years at 60-100 beats a minute without stopping once and that under normal operation requires no maintenance.

            • by h4rr4r (612664)

              Why those contraints?

              This pump get 24x7 maintenance, and flow rate is all that matter not how often it pumps.

            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              by im_thatoneguy (819432)

              Terrible pump design? Show me a human designed pump that can operate for ~100 years at 60-100 beats a minute without stopping once and that under normal operation requires no maintenance.

              Which is why an intelligent designer wouldn't have a pump in the first place. Especially one which was required to operate indefinitely without periodic maintenance. If I were designing something and I designed it in such a way that it could never be turned off for more than about 30 seconds and that no parts were replaceable or serviceable I would be called an idiot.

              We're fundamentally a terrible design. If I told you that your laptop's battery dying would result in you losing all of your data forever

          • by Dahamma (304068)

            Wow, seriously? A pump that has an average lifespan of 80+ years, is able to adapt over time to varying long term loads and almost immediately to short term loads 2-3x the average, contains its own distributed timing mechanism and in many cases is capable of self healing. Yeah, that's a terrible piece of work, it is...

          • by fizzup (788545)

            Or like a terrible pump design. Intelligent design my ass, more like idiotic design.

            Requirements:

            1. 300 liters per hour.
            2. 100% duty cycle.
            3. 75 year MTBF.

            Go!

      • by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Tuesday July 02, 2013 @12:36PM (#44167083)

        More over I thought the largest problem today is the fact that our bodies are outliving our minds as more people develop diseases like dementia and Alzheimer's.

        Don't worry. If that happens, the brain - if you think it's important - can always be replaced with an electronic brain. A simple one would suffice, you'd just have to program it to say "What?", "I don't understand", and "Where's the tea?", and no one will be able to tell the difference in most people.

      • Actually... Remember that experiment where they sew the mice together. The question may be, are these GDF-11 proteins made in the head.
        http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2013/05/09/protein-heart-disease [wbur.org]

    • by UBfusion (1303959)

      You mean weather the personal distinctiveness resides in the upper or lower head?

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      What are you trying to say?

      You think the sack of meat below your neck has anything to do with your consciousness?

       

      • by davidwr (791652) on Tuesday July 02, 2013 @12:35PM (#44167057) Homepage Journal

        You think the sack of meat below your neck has anything to do with your consciousness?

        By consciousness I assume you mean the "personality/soul/essence of your 'being'/whatever you want to call it."

        Yes, it does.

        I know my "personality" changes a bit when I'm hungry, tired, in physical pain, aroused (re: http://science.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=3929305&cid=44166849 [slashdot.org] above), etc. That is, there are things that I would never do when thinking clearly but if I'm starving, fatigued, in pain, aroused, or otherwise operating far below my normal rational though, I might do (and later regret).

        The "sack of meat below [my] neck" has a lot to do with this.

        If you don't believe me, imagine how your personality would change at least temporarily if you were an 80 year old man who was in chronic pain whose libido left with his prostate removal a decade ago waking up with the body of a healthy 21 year old with a libido to match. You very well might forget your moral compass for a few seconds and make a remark to an attractive member of the hospital staff that you would regret as soon as your brain re-engaged and overrode your new hormones.

        • by h4rr4r (612664)

          Sure it can impact your mood and such, I take a drug every morning that most people make their own of that does that.

          This does not mean the drug changes who I am.

          I have no interest in discussing souls or chakras or other BS.

          • by jythie (914043)
            souls and chakras asside, hormones produced in the non-head body do have a significant impact on personality, and it could be argued that personality is shaped by one's condition in life, which the body is a pretty significant element of.
          • by IndustrialComplex (975015) on Tuesday July 02, 2013 @01:05PM (#44167569)

            This does not mean the drug changes who I am.

            I wonder then, why are there so many instances of insulin deprived individuals exhibiting uncharacteristically violent/aggressive behaviors, or slipping into comas.

            Something as simple as an over/underactive pancreas can dramatically alter the behavior of a person. Last I checked, that organ wasn't located in the brain.

        • by Dahamma (304068) on Tuesday July 02, 2013 @01:09PM (#44167615)

          I know my "personality" changes a bit when I'm hungry, tired, in physical pain, aroused

          No, your "personality" doesn't change in response to these stimuli - the definition of personality IS an individual's response patterns to these. You are thinking of "mood".

      • How much DOES it really matter? Obviously there are people who's bodies have withered away like Steven hawking, or veterans with their bits blown away in war and they are still conscientiously "whole" people.

        So if I can put a head on a new body, can I just attach it to a mechanical one made up of life supporting devices?

        • by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Tuesday July 02, 2013 @01:08PM (#44167605)

          In theory, yes - but it'd need a life-support complex that would fill a room.

          There was a short sci-fi play on the subject, about a very rich and very old lady who survived crippling illness in just such a manner: She lived as a head-on-a-stick, connected to a huge machine in the room below that kept her alive. Fixed in place and able to interact only through a pair of robotic arms, she became depressed and attempted suicide - something the designers of the machine had forseen, and taken measures to prevent. Her death would mean no more machine, and no more research grants.

          This was written pre-internet though. You could probably find plenty of WoW players now who would barely notice the change.

      • by NFN_NLN (633283)

        What are you trying to say?

        You think the sack of meat below your neck has anything to do with your consciousness?

        Grabbing popcorn for thread on "where the soul is contained", in 3.. 2.. 1...

        • by h4rr4r (612664)

          You're going to be sad, it's not real. Same as Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.

  • Body transplant (Score:5, Informative)

    by jamesl (106902) on Tuesday July 02, 2013 @12:16PM (#44166779)

    They are really putting a "new" body on the old head. Therefore this is a body transplant.

    • I wonder would the hormonal controllers in the aged brain cause accelerated decrepitude in the new, young body. But I mean that aside, this is virtual immortality if one were ruthless enough, or alternatively if we could clone human bodies without heads immortality for all who could afford it.

  • I just don't know where to start with this one. Star Trek becomes reality.

  • Hmm... (Score:5, Funny)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Tuesday July 02, 2013 @12:16PM (#44166783)

    Head of Vecna [blindpanic.com], anyone? In other news, this plus cloning = "cure" for aging? Now if we can just figure out how to take all the skin and tissue on the skull and transplant that... oh wait. Nevermind. Face transplants.

    • by l0ungeb0y (442022)

      Why not just put a persons twin into cryostasis for use later on? Let's make biological clones the new ruling class with prolonged life.
      Even better for triplets and quadruplets! Man in the Iron mask meets Brave New World.

      If we could find a way to "grow" an entire copy of a persons body such as via 3D printing with cells that would be one thing. But raising a human from fetus to an appropriate age strictly for the purpose of harvesting it's body strikes me as abhorrent.

      And it seems it would make sense to tra

  • by UBfusion (1303959) on Tuesday July 02, 2013 @12:19PM (#44166827)

    Provided we find cures for Alzheimer's and other brain degenerative diseases, I wouldn't object living for another 100-200 years, preferably wearing young woman's bodies.

  • cure for paralysis? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 02, 2013 @12:20PM (#44166851)

    So with this technique could you cure paralysis? If you were to make the surgical cuts above the damaged spinal tissue and then attach the old head to a new body without the spinal damage?

  • Morally and ethically, this simply should not happen and should not be pursued. There are boundaries we need to maintain for the safety of humanity.

    In essence, this could provide eternal life to someone with enough cash. Typically those are not the most outstanding members of society that hold society's best interests as their own. How many nobles slaughtered their own as well as others for the fountain of youth? Go read a history book!

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      Please explain how this would provide eternal life.

      Your brain no longer functioning properly is not going to be solved by getting a new body, that will happen with age. Go read a science book!

      • Your brain no longer functioning properly is not going to be solved by getting a new body, that will happen with age. Go read a science book!

        When you replace the neurons one at a time with electronic substitutes (say, as an Alzheimer's treatment), at what point is Grandma no longer Grandma?

        • by h4rr4r (612664)

          Never, she is always Grandma.
          I am hoping for that for me in the future, I doubt it will be available.

        • When you replace the neurons one at a time with electronic substitutes (say, as an Alzheimer's treatment), at what point is Grandma no longer Grandma?

          When she's Theseus?

        • by NEDHead (1651195)

          When Grandma gets a hot body, she is no longer Grandma.

      • by Baloroth (2370816)

        Your brain no longer functioning properly is not going to be solved by getting a new body, that will happen with age. Go read a science book!

        Duh, obviously, that's why if the brain's a problem you get a new head! Come on, a five year old could figure this out!

    • How would it create eternal life? Unless there's a way to cure degenerative brain diseases, this wouldn't really buy a person that much more time.

    • Morally and ethically, this simply should not happen and should not be pursued. There are boundaries we need to maintain for the safety of humanity.

      And you've appointed yourself guardian of humanity, have you? Longevity is inevitable, and it's pretty likely that the wealthy and powerful will enjoy the benefits first. There's zero reason why the rest of us shouldn't eventually likewise live much longer lives afterwards though.

    • by nedlohs (1335013)

      Because your head and brain doesn't age, right? It's only the body portion that ages and breaks down.

      I also take it you have the same objection to heart transplants?

  • Body transplant (Score:5, Informative)

    by Alioth (221270) <no@spam> on Tuesday July 02, 2013 @12:24PM (#44166905) Journal

    I'd really argue that because who you are is really all in the head, this is a body transplant rather than a head transplant.

    TFA says that the idea is still rather speculative, but if it were to work I have to wonder how long it would take the brain in the head that was connected to a new body to figure out how to make the new body work. I doubt all the individual axons would connect perfectly in 1:1 fashion in the same way as it were on the old body. In fact I'd be surprised if any axons connected to the same corresponding one in the new body.

    As an aside as a teenager I suffered a very serious injury to my wrist when my right hand went through a pane on a glass door. The glass basically sliced my wrist open to the bone. Aside from losing a lot of blood from the severed arteries, the radial nerve was completely severed and was microsurgically reconnected that night. The radial nerve basically gives your hand sensation from the thumb to the middle finger, and when the nerves first grew back, the sensations would come out in the wrong place - if I touched the inside of my middle finger the sensation would come out elsewhere on the hand. However after a few months things got "remapped" and the sensations all now come out in the correct places. I'd imagine this would be a more serious problem if a nerve that conducts some sensation is now connected to one that's supposed to activate a muscle.

  • by nimbius (983462) on Tuesday July 02, 2013 @12:26PM (#44166929) Homepage
    three words should put an end to this chicanery: Immortal Dick Cheney.
    • three words should put an end to this chicanery: Immortal Dick Cheney.

      I think "should be possible" already deflates the hype.

  • by hyades1 (1149581) <hyades1@hotmail.com> on Tuesday July 02, 2013 @12:26PM (#44166941)

    I think this question can be answered with a coin flip. Call it in the air, guys...heads or tails?

  • "This is not the same as restoring nervous system function to quadriplegics or other victims of traumatic spinal cord injury."

    Why? Is it possibly because someone (like wealthy social network founders, etc...) would pay lots of money for keeping their heads going vs quadriplegics or other victims don't have the money required to "enrich" science?
  • No further comment necessary

  • For example, we have face transplants, now the possibil;ity of head (or body) transplants. So, if you take a blonde, peal down her face and attach a head with a brain, will this ruin all the "Dumb Blonde" jokes?

  • So effectively you could keep a clone on ice and when the time comes just transplant your head onto the clones body. Pretty cool!

    But I'd prefer learning how to fix the issues that would lead to the necessity of a complete head transplant.
  • by puddingebola (2036796) on Tuesday July 02, 2013 @12:46PM (#44167253) Journal
    "Say Jack, there's something different about you today? Did you get a haircut? Wait, no, I know what it is, you had your head removed and grafted onto somebody else's body... didn't you?"
  • Robot Satan: "Well, it's back to hell for me! C'mon Nixon!"

  • It didn't work out too well for Ray Milland and Rosie Grier...
  • don't they mean body transplant?

  • by ThatsNotPudding (1045640) on Tuesday July 02, 2013 @01:07PM (#44167593)
    You slowly awake in a strange hotel room, only to find your head in an ice bucket, your valuable, sellable body missing, and a note advising you to get to a hospital.

    Though the note would have to be taped to the ice bucket lid, I suppose.
  • by Progman3K (515744) on Tuesday July 02, 2013 @01:12PM (#44167657)

    The first person to get an additional head grafted onto their shoulders should be declared president of the galaxy!

  • by Qbertino (265505) on Tuesday July 02, 2013 @01:47PM (#44168113)

    I can't believe that some scientists actually had the bizar idea to test this on animals. What sick brain actually thinks "Gee, I wonder if I could transplant the head of this goat to the body of that other goat ..."
    Creeeepy. ... Perhaps scientists doing stuff like that should be locked away or at least have their permissions revoked or something.

    My 2 cents.

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