(Yicai Global) Nov. 24 -- Clinical tests like head transplants will probably never be allowed in China, Huang Jiefu, chairman of the country's National Organ Donation and Transplantation Committee (NODTC) and former deputy health minister, said yesterday.
A team led by Harbin Medical University's Prof. Ren Xiaoping and Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero performed an anatomical study on two corpses that featured a head being attached to a different body, commonly known as head transplant, a year ago. Though Ren did not provide details about the clinical test, he was confident about the results.
The study was recently misinterpreted as the first "head transplant," triggering a wave of controversy.
"As a transplant surgeon, I explicitly oppose such rhetoric," Huang said. Clinical head transplants violate Chinese regulations on human organ transplantation, he said, adding that he hopes the relevant ethics committees can perform their duties.
Head transplants involve spinal cord regeneration, for which surgeons worldwide have failed to find a solution, and brain preservation under ischemia. Spinal cord repair is a particularly difficult problem. The central nervous system is considered non-renewable tissues, while spinal cord injuries are a problem that humans cannot effectively deal with.
Although Ren and Canavero proposed using polyethylene glycol (PEG) to fuse severed spinal cord pieces, the mainstream academic community is doubtful. "It is as if a submarine cable in the Atlantic Ocean is broken, and some want to use an adhesive to make it stick together so that it will work again," said Abraham Shaked, a professor at the Penn Transplant Institute of the University of Pennsylvania.
"Thousands of patients with spinal cord injuries in the world have disabilities," Huang said. "Why can't the so-called head transplant scientists come up with experimental evidence showing that central nervous system damage can be repaired? Why can't they provide evidence of a successful experiment on animals?"
Head transplants are likely impossible, and face serious challenges in terms of medical ethics. "Liver transplants are for patients with liver failure, and kidney transplants are for patients with kidney failure," Huang said. "Patients are still themselves after going through a liver transplant or a kidney transplant, but who is a patient if he or she undergoes a head transplant?"
Head transplants are not permitted for ethical reasons, Huang said.