Yap: Head transplant

WE merely inherited what were once objects of awe at the turn of the century. We didn’t see the light bulb, the telephone or penicillin the first time they were held up publicly. We didn’t see Einstein’s first lecture on the shape of the universe or the Lumieres’ first motion picture of the train. The Internet, yes, in our time, but it was a milestone aided in no small way by the invention of the telephone. So we’re kind of heirs to the real McCoys.

Is that right? Well, maybe. But if Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero and a host of other doctors and technicians succeed in transplanting the head of a live person to another body, then we’d be witnesses to a real Frankenstein moment.

While milestones in medicine and surgery brought forth organ transplant, it never had attempted the exponentially risky venture of decapitating a live human and fastening the head on another body. Life is no Lego set.

The hardest piece to fit in the puzzle was connecting the ends of two nervous systems, specifically the spinal cord. The problem was how to cut clean, in fact extremely clean so that every strand or cell retain its integrity so it could be grafted in its healthy form unto the other end. The sturdier spinal bones, esophagus and trachea could stand the usual scalpel. Excuse me for the illustration—education, experience, and too much Quentin Tarantino left me with a cold eye for human anatomy.

Canavero calls his procedure “head anastomosis venture” or HEAVEN. Anastomosis means joining of two body parts, erstwhile the stuff the Mary Shelley fiction was made of.

So how does one sever the whole anatomical mesh with zero damage? Canavero will use a $200,000 diamond nanoblade in one quick stroke. After which, the surgical team will have an hour’s margin before the patient’s soul wanders off. Aiding the attachment is another missing piece in the puzzle, a chemical cooked up by Chinese doctor Xiaoping Ren called polyethylene glycol or PEG, a miracle binder that stitches up the nerve cells. The PEG had been tried and tested in a mouse decapitation experiment in China. A magic cutter and binder; like the cut-paste thing in your computer, so that pretty much solves the most invasive aspect of the procedure.

Earlier, Soviet doctors grafted dogs’ heads, but the specimens didn’t survive long. So there go the anxieties and uproar that greet Canavero’s experiment in many medical communities all over the world. One of the more arresting questions was if the patient could retrieve memory, personality or even normal motor function when the head lodges on another body with a whole set of genetic codes. Where does memory reside? In the brain, heart, blood, skin? Many of our public officials, a recent breakthrough discovery says, store up intelligence in their testicles. Speaker Alvarez can attest to that.

A Ukrainian boy named Valery Spiridonov, 32, volunteered for the operation. He has a disorder that wastes away his muscles and nerves, only his head remains healthy, the rest of his body looks like a slowly deflating balloon. Will Valery be able to remember his past after the surgery? Will he be able to recognize people?

If HEAVEN succeeds, this will pave the way for human life extension. Theoretically, when the body wears off, you can buy a younger one, have your head transplanted into it, and as fresher blood pumps into the head, you undergo rejuvenation. You will be forever young, so rock and roll. The hundred-million-dollar procedure may be done this year, with around hundreds of doctors assisting, says Canavero.

Meanwhile, back home, PNP Chief Ronald ‘Bato’ dela Rosa argues that Vice President Leni Robredo’s version of “palit-ulo” is an implausible theory. The police don’t hold the suspects’ relatives just to press the former into yielding. The true story goes that suspects are given lesser punishment when they sing about larger fishes.

Doesn’t matter. Philippine-style “palit-ulo” precedes any medical milestone anytime and anywhere in the world. Proud to be Pinoy.
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