By: Chris Yalom | 05-01-2017 | News
Photo credit: Helenyemmerman |

Scientists Carry Out Head Transplants in Rats

Controversial neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero latest study is about scientists attaching a head of a smaller rat onto a larger one.

Three rats were used in the operation. One rat serves as the donor; the other rat is the recipient while the third rat provides the blood supply for the other two rats.

The result of the surgery shows the smaller donor rat’s head and forearms were attached to the recipient which is a larger rat.

Authors of the study include Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero and Xiaoping Ren from the Harbin Medical University, China. In the study, it showed how the third rat was used to guarantee blood supply to the other two rats during the operation.

The smaller donor rat was connected to the third rat through a silicon tube. The tube provided blood supply to the donor brain tissue during the transplant.

In the journal CNS Neuroscience and Therapeutics, researchers explained how they developed the “bicephalic model head transplantation”, this model enabled them to study potential problems relating to insufficient blood flow to the brain and immune rejection.


Researchers say the donor brain tissue did not experience any injury and the donor had pain and corneal reflex following the operation. The pump application provides blood supply to the donor brain tissue and the silicone tube acts to regulate the temperature thus protecting it from hypothermia.

In September 2016, Canavero and Ren released three studies to New Scientist in which they claimed to show successful operations.

One of the research showed scientist severed a dog’s spinal cord and claimed to re-attach it.

Scientists used graphene nanoribbons to create a scaffold for neurons to grow along.

The scientist claimed that after the day they cut the spinal cord, they found the electrical activity, but most of the mice then died in a flood so follow-up observations were lacking.

In January 2016, Canavero announced monkey had a successful head transplant that had been carried out by Ren in China. He released images of the head of a monkey stitched onto another. Canavero claimed the monkey survived for 20 hours without neurological damage but was euthanized after for ethical reasons.

Canavero is currently planning have his world’s first human head transplant in December 2017. Initially, the first patient is a Russian man named Valery Spiridonov who is suffering from Wedding-Hoffman's disease, a degenerative muscle wasting condition. However, for some unknown reason, Canavero announced that a Chinese national will be the first patient but is yet to be selected.

He stated that there were high numbers of volunteers from all over the world who came forward for the operation. The final decision will only be made immediately before the operation and it also depends on the donor if they are compatible with the recipient.

The proposal was met with huge criticism from the scientific community. Major ethical issues were also raised. Many have said Canavero’s technique have not enough evidence and will not work. Spiridonov could technically be left conscious but with a huge amount of pain if the operation will fail.

Hunt Batjer, president-elect of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, commented he would not wish this on anyone and there are a lot of things worse than death.


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