There is a news circulating that in the next two years, Dr. Sergio Canavero, of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group (TANG) in Italy, will perform the world's first head transplantation. A procedure which will require

150 surgeons and nurses approximately 36 hours to complete

and after which the patient is held in coma during recovery

The recipient will be kept in a coma for around 3-4 weeks, says Dr. Canavero, during which time the spinal cord will be subject to electrical stimulation via implanted electrodes in order to boost the new nerve connections.

Is this even feasible? If it can be done, does that imply that humans can live for a long time, if they can find a compatible donor ? What requirements are there for compatibility?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Wouldn't that be a body transplant instead of a head transplant? $\endgroup$
    – msmucker0527
    Commented Nov 25, 2015 at 12:12
  • $\begingroup$ Well technically I guess so. But I doubt the body minds. $\endgroup$
    – imranal
    Commented Nov 25, 2015 at 12:13
  • $\begingroup$ Related: skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/20335/… $\endgroup$
    – Jamiec
    Commented Nov 25, 2015 at 12:58

1 Answer 1


I have the impression that the MNT article is significantly over-stating the potential of this technique, at least with current technology. The mouse work by Xiaoping Ren (see this 2014 paper) seems to have a very steep death-curve post-surgery:

Forty Kunming mice and forty C57 wild type underwent the AHBR procedure. After transplantation, 18 mice survived for 3 h after the ventilator was disconnected.

There are no details in the paper about how long the most robust mouse survived for post-surgery. I would guess that it is not an impressive number, otherwise the authors would include it. Alternatively, the 18 surviving mice may have been euthanased after three hours - the paper does not make this clear, but it is common to have a predetermined time-limit for euthanasia in experiments where animals are expected to suffer from an irreversible treatment.

During these 3 h, the mice awakened and displayed normal cranial nerve function and characteristic responsiveness (blinking, whiskers moving, etc.). After the mice awoke, electroencephalogram (EEG) recordings were made directly from the cortex of the transplanted Cephalons (Figure 3). Because blood supply was maintained at an adequate level during surgery by anastomosing the donor and recipient carotid and jugular vessels, the intra- and post- operative EEG and ECG show electrophysiological activity.

This sounds a lot like a 'no' to 'can this technique be used to substantially extend human lifespans?', on current technology. If a human trial is approved, and is as successful as the mouse trials, the recipient will likely be dead within hours. If they survive for several hours, the level of motor control that can be expected in that time is likely restricted to unconscious motor tics (cf whisker twitching and blinking).


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