Full body transplants will happen “when we are ready” says hand transplant doctor


Dr Ren Xiaoping says that he is getting ready to perform full body transplants

Known for assisting in the first hand transplant in 1999, Dr Ren Xiaoping of Harbin Medical University in China has revealed that the next step in medical science – body transplants – will be taken in the future. Transplants of full bodies will be practiced when the science is ready for it, says an influential doctor.

The assertion has caused controversy as critics claim there are ethical and moral issues raised by such surgery which have not been addressed in China’s push for progress.

Orthopedic surgeon Dr Ren, who spent 16 years training in the US before returning to China in 2012, says he is pulling team together to perform such an operation which will take place “when we are ready”, according to the New York Times .

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A procedure for full body transplant would involve removing two heads from their bodies and connecting the blood vessels of the deceased donor and recipient head.

Surgeons performing surgery on patient
Dr Xiaoping has already performed the operation on mice. File photo

A stabilising metal plate will then be fitted in the new neck and the spinal cord’s nerve endings will be treated to promote regrowth. Finally, the skin would be sewn up.

Several people in China have already volunteered for the operation.

“I’ve been practicing medicine in China and overseas for more than 30 years,” said Dr Ren in an interview.

“I’ve done the most complicated operations. But compared to this one, there’s no comparison.”

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“Whether it’s ethical or not, this is a person’s life,” he added. “There is nothing higher than a life, and that’s the core of ethics.”

Along with Dr Ren, Dr Sergio Canavero from the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group has also spoken up for the procedure, adding his voice to those of scientists at the Institute of Theoretical and Experimental Biophysics at the Russian Academy of Sciences – although these supporters are nowhere near a planning stage for the operation.

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Dr Sergio Canavero during a TED talk
Dr Sergio Canavero during a TEDx talk on head transplants in 2015

Earlier this year, Italian Dr Sergio Canavero revealed a monkey underwent a head transplant at Harbin Medical University.

He says it came through the operation “without any neurological injury of whatever kind”, but that it was killed 20 minutes after the surgery for ethical reasons.

Dr Ren says the mice he has conducted body transplants on have lived a day, while he has not shared the results of his experiments on corpses.

He claims that paralysed patients as well as those with life-threatening diseases which have affected their body functions could benefit from the procedure.

Critics have called the procedure “premature and… reckless” and “stupid rather than crazy”.

Dr. Sergio Canavero unveils plans to perform the first human head transplant

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Dr Abraham Shaked, a professor of surgery and the director of the Penn Transplant Institute at the University of Pennsylvania, added: “Put it this way: It is like if the trans-Atlantic phone cable is cut by half, and someone wants to put it together using Krazy Glue.”