Recent medical advances offer plenty of hope when it comes to getting sick in the future.
Last week, we told you about a groundbreaking advance in the treatment of multiple sclerosis (MS).
Now, a doctor in China has plans for a full-body transplant. Meaning: a whole new body for a head.
Dr. Ren Xiaoping of Harbin Medical University, an orthopedic surgeon who assisted in the first hand transplant in the United States in 1999, is determined to move forward with the full-bodied plan.
It works like this: two heads are removed from two bodies, then the blood vessels of the deceased donor and the recipient head are connected, a metal plate is inserted to stabilize the neck, the spinal cord nerve endings are soaked in a glue-like substance to stimulate regrowth, and the skin is sewn up.
If only it was as easy as it sounds.
If it pans out, the surgery could be life-altering for those with spinal injuries. Several people in China have volunteered for a body transplant at a hospital in the northern Chinese city of Harbin.
At present, however, leading doctors and experts say that such a transplant is impossible. They point to the difficulty in connecting nerves in the spinal cord. As for those who volunteered for the body transplant, failure to connect these nerves would mean certain death of the patient. Most of the medical community agrees that this is the likely outcome.
The procedure is definitely not without its critics, who slam China for pushing the practical and ethical limits of science in suggesting such a far-fetched and impractical idea.
“At this stage, I would call the attempt stupid rather than crazy,” Dr. Abraham Shaked, a professor of surgery and the director of the Penn Transplant Institute at the University of Pennsylvania said in an email to The New York Times. “Crazy means it may be done. Stupid should not be done.”
In a November interview, Dr. Huang Jiefu, a former deputy minister of health in China, said that when the spine is cut, the neurons “cannot be reconnected, so it’s scientifically impossible.”
This isn’t the first time China has come under scrutiny for its boundary-pushing medical practices. Last year, a team of Chinese scientists faced international backlash when they attempted to genetically alter human embryos. Another team attempted to do so this year.
As for Dr. Ren, he’s apparently earned himself the nickname “Dr. Frankenstein,’ having performed hundreds of head transplant procedures on rodents, and even on a monkey. Apparently the mice have lived a day, while the monkey came through the operation without neurological injury but was killed 20 minutes after the surgery for ethical reasons.
If he is successful in performing the procedure on humans, it could have major implications for those with spinal cord injuries, life-threatening diseases that affect body functions, and on the medical industry in general.