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The World's First Human Head Transplants Move A Step Closer As Rat Test Prove Successful

It's expected by the end of 2017 the world's first head transplant will be undertaken, today it's been revealed that it may be a step closer to reality.

The surgeon who plans to conduct the procedure has confirmed he successfully transferred the head of a mouse onto the body of the rat.

Sergio Canavero, already known for some outlandish experiments involving animals, has created a group of two-headed rats - a move which has not only shocked members of the public but also those from within the scientific community.

 Credit: CEN

His work, alongside Xioping Ren, showed that two-headed rats can live for days - thus breathing confidence into critics of the human head transplant.

The procedure involved the use of three furry creatures: one mouse and two rats. The head of the mouse was removed, and placed onto the body of a rat (who still had its own head intact), while a third was used a blood supply donor. The impact on each rodent was recorded.

These experiments harken back to the two-headed dog experiments of the early 1900s and 1950s as well as the two-headed monkey experiments of the 1970s. Some already claim to have successfully completed full head transplants, but how successful those experiments have been is unclear.

The goal of this particular version was to avoid brain-damaging blood loss while the donor head was being attached to the recipient rat—an issue we'll have to figure out if head transplants actually become a thing. One scientist, not affiliated with the rat transplant, is currently working towards the first human head transplant, so figuring out these logistics isn't just for kicks. 

  Credit: CEN

The way these researchers tackled this problem was by attaching the blood vessels of the donor rat's head to the blood vessels of a third rat whose circulation kept blood flowing continuously to the donor rat's brain. Once the new rat head was all settled on the recipient rat's body, the donor head's blood vessels were then attached to the recipient's. No damaging blood loss was detected on the EEGs monitoring the donor rat's brain activity throughout the transplanting procedure.

The results showed that each mutant animal lived for around 36 hours.

Canavero has tried several methods in the past to prove the capability of a head transplant. One of which included spinal cords being reconnected. He attempted to prove this last year by severing the spinal cord of dogs and then reattaching it.

Many critics claims the ability for this to work on humans, successfully, is a long way off. Not least the ethics involved in performing such a manoeuvre.

Arthur Caplan, of New York University, told the New Scientist: "This work would put them about three or four years from repairing a spinal cord in humans.

Spiridonov with Canavero. Credit: PA

The subject for the first head transplant has already been selected, 31-year-old Valery Spiridonov will undergo the surgery in a bid to save him from his terminal illness. He suffers from Werdnig-Hoffman disease - a rare form of spinal muscular atrophy - and wants to have the surgery done to give him a shot of having a new body, before the disease kills him.

Spiridonov claims he 'knows the risks' but is likely to have the transplant in December 2017, at a cost of £14m.

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