Chinese doctor denies operating 1st head transplant

By Zhao Yusha Source:Global Times Published: 2017/11/21 20:28:39

Tech, regeneration problems remain the biggest challenge


A Chinese surgeon denied saying that they carried out the world's first head transplant, claiming that it was only an experimental operation on a corpse.

Ren Xiaoping from Harbin Medical University, who allegedly operated on the "world's first human head transplant," held a press conference on Tuesday to respond to critics of surgery he did with Italian professor Sergio Canavero.

"It is inappropriate to call it a head transplant because it was only an experimental model," Ren said, adding that this is not the time for a head transplant, and that he is not sure when the right time is.

The surgery has caused controversy worldwide since Canavero publicly announced the surgery in Vienna a few days ago, with many experts and people raising technological problems and ethical issues.

Spinal cord regeneration is the most important yet a difficult problem in head transplants, because once the spinal cord is injured, it is extremely difficult to let it regenerate, and there's no way to solve it at the moment, Liu Changqiu, an academic who studies organ donations at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of Law, told the Global Times.

Ren, however, said he is confident that the team has found a good way to deal with spinal cord injury.

"It is far beyond our imagination, but we made it," Ren declared.

He proved his claims by showing video of his previous experiments on dogs and mice. The dogs were able to run two months after surgery, according to news site thepaper.cn. Ren said that the effect on dogs was "terrific" after a year's observation. However, Ren admitted that a post-surgery dog is different from ordinary dogs.

Liu said the experiment by Ren and Canavero on cadavers is just hype, since it takes a live human body to confirm whether it is possible to recover the central nervous system of the newly transplanted head.

Many Chinese are also questioning the ethical issues that come with the surgery. "If the head of A is transplanted to the body of B, who will be the new person after the surgery, A or B?" asked some Weibo users.

The public should be more tolerant toward head transplants because it is a breakthrough in the medical world, just like the previously controversial kidney and cardiac transplants, said Zhang Tiankan, a medical scholar. However, he added that there should be a strict examination procedure for such a surgery, including complete transparency to the subjects and their consent.

"Such a surgery should only be done if it is the best option," he explained.

"Controversies are normal when it comes to head transplants," Ren said. "I am a doctor, not an ethicist. I am just doing my job as a medical professional."

Su Liya contributed to this story


Newspaper headline: Chinese denies 1st head transplant


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