Human Head Transplant Machine Concept Unveiled By Startup

Is it ever going to be realistic to take a whole human head and plop it onto new shoulders?
Is it ever going to be realistic to take a whole human head and plop it onto new shoulders?

On May 21, startup BrainBridge unveiled its concept for a world-first head transplant system, promising to combine artificial intelligence with the latest in robotics to literally remove a human head and put it on a new body. If everything works as intended, once the head is in place, the person will apparently be able to get up and go about the rest of their life with a brand-new set of healthy limbs and organs. Sounds fantastical? Right now, science says it probably still is.

BrainBridge project lead Hasham Al-Ghaili, who revealed the plans for the transplant machine in a series of posts on Instagram, told Longevity.Technology, “The goal of our technology is to push the boundaries of what is possible in medical science and provide innovative solutions for those battling life-threatening conditions. Our technology promises to open doors to lifesaving treatments that were unimaginable just a few years ago.”

In its introductory video, the company claims that BrainBridge’s use of robotics will help speed the transplant process up – you can’t leave a head without a body for too long and expect it to survive. Two robots will simultaneously operate on the donor and the recipient, in an environment where the conditions can be tweaked precisely, without having to worry about making it comfortable for human medical staff.

Donor bodies would come from young, otherwise healthy people who have experienced brain death; heads from people with diseases like cancer or neurodegenerative conditions, or injuries that have led to paralysis, could then be swapped onto the younger, healthy donor body for a new lease on life.

BrainBridge says its process will preserve the recipient’s “consciousness, memories, and cognitive abilities.” It will still be you, just on a new scaffold.

They also make the bold claim that “the brain is capable of lasting several hundred years” according to their estimates, meaning that swapping out a tired body for a newer model could be the gateway to extending a human life beyond our current wildest dreams – if you take their word for it, that is.

But the big question remains: can they really do it?

Is a head transplant a realistic possibility?

Many have been fascinated by the idea of transplanting a human brain or entire head. Movies from classic comedy-horror Young Frankenstein to the bang-up-to-date Poor Things have dealt with the subject, and it crops up in dozens of books – not all of them fictional. It was inevitable, really, that scientists would begin to explore the possibilities in the real world too.

One such pioneer was Robert J. White, a surgeon whose revolutionary techniques birthed a new standard in neurosurgery, but who was also perennially fascinated with what he called the “total body transplant”. White performed a number of experimental operations on monkeys. Although they could survive the initial procedure, the technology hadn’t yet caught up to enable the reattachment of all the myriad nerves in the spinal cord, so moving their new bodies was impossible.

More recently, in 2017, controversial neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero claimed to have performed a “successful” head transplant on a human – the only catch being that both humans involved in this procedure were deceased before the surgery even began. Still, Canavero was back in 2023 claiming that a living brain transplant was next on his list.

Canvero’s proposed technique has at least one commonality with BrainBridge’s futuristic surgery setup, in that they both propose to use polyethylene glycol (PEG) to re-fuse severed nerves. There’s some research to suggest that PEG could have utility in the surgical treatment of peripheral nerve injuries, but that’s a little different from successfully stitching back together an entire nervous system.

Even if we can, does that mean we should?

The potential pitfalls with human head transplants don’t end there. We’ve already touched on the need for speed and keeping conditions right to stop the tissue from beginning to degenerate, and if BrainBridge is able to build a machine that works as they intend, they seem confident that they can address these issues. We’ve got robots doing surgery in space now, so having two automatons working on human bodies at the same time isn’t so farfetched, right?

But the biggest question marks hang over what might happen once a person wakes up from a head transplant. BrainBridge claims their system would keep people’s consciousness intact – but there’s still so much we’ve yet to understand about the very nature of consciousness. It’s a similar story with memory, with so many theories about how it works and no clear consensus.

Other technical questions include the possibility of immune rejection, and pain control following such a traumatic surgical procedure. And if head transplants ever did become a realistic possibility, there would be serious ethical discussions that would need to be had.

“The idea that you can just take someone’s head and just plop it on someone else’s body and it will be the same person is a theory. We take it for granted that it’s true but it’s certainly not taken for granted in other cultures or historically,” said Paul Root Wolpe, a professor of bioethics at Emory University, in a 2017 statement.

It’s not for us to say whether or not BrainBridge’s ambitious technology will ever come to fruition. Many ideas that were once thought restricted to science fiction have become a reality. But right now, a human head transplant is not a realistic possibility – and if it were, it’s not clear whether that would actually be a good thing.

“‘In many ways, it’s like a dozen unlikely, ridiculous claims bundled into one convenient package,” neuroscientist and honorary research fellow at the Cardiff University Psychology School Dr Dean Burnett told MailOnline.

Still, it appears that Robert J. White was eerily prescient in his thinking. According to historian Brandy Shillace, author of a recent book on his life and work, White “remained convinced that the surgery would be performed, somewhere, someday, and that his work would be exonerated.”

1
0
Categories: Alternative, Science
Anton Nieuwenhuizen

Written by:Anton Nieuwenhuizen All posts by the author

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Cookies Notice

Our website use cookies. If you continue to use this site we will assume that you are happy with this.
Spilling the Beans

You cannot copy content of this page

0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x