Posted by Dr Katy Taylor on 12th June 2015
Over 1,000 mice used in grisly head transplant experiments - monkeys are next
A Chinese surgeon has recently announced his plan to start carrying out head transplant experiments on monkeys this summer.
The gruesome procedure, which sounds like something out of a horror movie, has been met with considerable controversy.
According to a report in the Wall Street Journal,1 Dr. Xiaoping Ren conducted his first ‘successful’ head transplant on a mouse back in July 2013; a grisly surgery which lasted for 10 hours. Since then he has experimented on over 1,000 mice in an attempt to try to ‘perfect’ the technique. Despite his efforts, none of the mice managed to survive for longer than one day. Disturbing photos of mice after the surgery clearly show that they are paralysed and some even have different coloured heads to their bodies.2
Previous attempts to carry out head transplants in animals have proved both gruesome and unsuccessful. In 1954, a Russian surgeon attempted to transplant the head and forelegs of a puppy onto the back of another dog.3 Despite trying the procedure a few times, all of them only managed to survive for a few days. In 1970, the head of a monkey was ‘successfully’ transplanted onto another monkey’s body in the USA.4 However, the monkey was completely paralysed, could only breathe with the help of a machine and died eight days later when his head was rejected by the donor monkey’s immune system.
Even with this terrible track record, Dr. Ren insists that he is ready to try out the technique on monkeys with the hope that he can keep them alive “at least for a little while” before eventually offering the treatment to patients whose bodies no longer work properly. However, the disturbing proposal has been met with scepticism from scientists who believe that the technique is too dangerous, unethical and unlikely to succeed.2
Earlier this year, Italian doctor Sergio Cannavaro claimed that he will carry out the first human head transplant by 2017, an announcement which was also met with similar controversy.5
- Surgery’s far frontier: head transplants. (2015). The Wall Street Journal, 5 June: http://www.wsj.com/articles/surgerys-far-frontier-head-transplants-1433525830
- Chinese surgeon who has performed 1,000 head transplants in mice wants to create the first head-transplanted monkey that can live ‘at least for a little while’. (2015). The Independent, 8 June: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/chinese-surgeon-who-has-performed-1000-head-transplants-on-mice-wants-to-create-the-first-headtransplanted-monkey-that-can-live-at-least-for-a-little-while-10304115.html
- Human head transplant: here’s why it’s a ludicrous idea and highly unlikely to happen by 2017. (2015). The Mirror, 27 Feb: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/technology-science/science/human-head-transplant-heres-its-5238403