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Virtual Reality and the First Human Head Transplant: Bet You Didn’t See This Coming

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August 12, 2017

There are still millions of people who struggle with Tupperware lids and Listerine caps, but Sergio Canavero, an Italian neurosurgeon, thinks he’ll be able to perform a full blown human head transplant by the end of this year. As you might imagine there are a few complications through which Canavero and his team need to work, but thankfully the big question of, “Hey, how does someone practice having a dead person’s torso glued to their neck?” has been answered: virtual reality.

Phewph. And we thought using someone else’s body to pee was going to be weird.

First of all, because we know you’re wondering, this is all very real. Dr. Canavero is assembling a team of doctors as part of the formal HEAVEN project (Head Anastomosis Venture) and is in the process of determining the best methods for data collection (“Testing on brain dead organ donors in the interval between declaration of brain death and initiation of organ harvesting is an ethical option.”).

By the end of 2017 Canavero expects to be able to plop a live head onto a brain-dead body over the course of a 36-hour surgery that would involve surgeons reconnecting a severed spinal cord, stitching up tube-sustained blood vessels, and screaming, “HOLY FUCK HOLY FUCK HOLY FUCK” for three days straight.

…evidence for survival of human brain neurons up to 8 hours after death such that they still had the potential to recover their functions of energy metabolism and axonal transport in 30+ postmortem (delay: 3–6 hours) human brains is on record.

After decapitation, some reserves of metabolic substrates and ATP can support a maximum of one minute of normal metabolism, but less if no oxygen is available.

The reality is that there is no well-accepted definition of the point at which a cell dies…The only unequivocal definition of cell death is a morphological one, the elimination of the cell, which arises by unrecoverable cell disintegration (or phagocytosis).

…it appears that a fresh cadaver might act as a proxy for a live subject as long as a window of opportunity is respected (a few hours). It also implies that the process of deathly disintegration is not an immediate process…We name this effect the “Frankenstein effect.” We believe this has a neuropathological basis.

So that wraps up the surgery stuff nicely. Looks like the only challenge remaining is a smooth patient transition - after awaking from a one month coma the doctors are expecting - into full functionality with a new body from the neck down. For this, Dr. Canavero plans to enlist the help of Inventum Bioengineering Technologies to implement a part-virtual-reality-part-jolly-jumper system that, with months of training prior to the procedure, will prepare the patient for the “…new world that he will be facing with his new body.”

Here is Dr. Canavero’s 2014 Ted Talk on the topic:

Read the rest at SnapMunk

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