Is it really possible to transplant a human head onto another body?

The other day, a video from the startup Brain Bridge, showing the world's first concept of a robotic head transplant system, went viral online. The idea is to combine the latest advances in AI, robotics and medicine to transplant a head onto a new body of another person. This would make it possible to save the lives of people who are sick with incurable diseases or, for example, have received serious injuries. But can this idea really be brought to life, and what difficulties will scientists face?

Is it really possible to transplant a human head onto another body? Starts Brain bridge is going to transplant a human head. Photo source: Photo.

Starts Brain bridge is going to transplant a human head. Photo source:

Scientists will work on head transplants

According to Hasham Al-Ghaili, head of BrainBridge, the project's mission is to push the boundaries of what is possible in medical science and provide innovative opportunities. According to the plan, a head transplant will become possible, since the head will not be outside the body for a long time. Two robots will perform two operations simultaneously, and as soon as both heads are separated from work, the living head will immediately be connected to the living body. At the same time, during transplantation, optimal conditions will be maintained in the box, which will prevent rapid tissue degeneration.

Donors can be young, healthy people who, for one reason or another, have suffered brain death, for example, as a result of trauma, neurodegenerative diseases, etc. According to the startup, once a person's head receives a new body, he will not lose his memories and cognitive abilities. That is, the person will remain the same as he was before the operation, but only in a new body.

At the same time, the authors of the project make a bold statement that a person’s head can last several hundred years, if it is periodically transplanted onto a new body. This means that a head transplant can also be a way to prolong life. It all sounds like science fiction, and most likely it is science fiction.

Head transplant operations

The topic of head or separate brain transplantation has long been discussed in various science fiction literature and films. Of course, it attracts not only science fiction writers, but also many scientists. One of the pioneers in this field was the American neurosurgeon Robert J. White, who in 1970 successfully transplanted the head of a monkey for the first time in history. The animal was able to survive the initial procedure, but technology at that time did not yet allow all the countless nerves of the spinal cord to be connected to each other. Therefore, transplantation of bodies was impossible.

Head transplant operations. Sergio Canavero is a surgeon who announced a human head transplant in 2017. Photo.

Sergio Canavero — surgeon who announced a human head transplant in 2017

Then in 2017, the topic of head transplants stirred up humanity again when neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero announced that he had successfully transplanted a human head. True, this operation had one nuance – both patients died before the operation began, but the people’s brains still remained active. In 2023, Canavero again excited the public with the announcement that he was going to perform a living human head transplant. However, not a single successful human head transplant operation has yet been performed.

Is it possible for a person to have a head transplant

Sergio Canavero's idea is based on the same principle as the BrainBridge project – the use of polyethylene glycol (PEG), that is, a special substance for fusing torn nerves. However, according to some experts, PEG may be effective in treating damaged peripheral nerves, but not in restoring the entire nervous system. And this is far from the only problem that scientists will have to face.

If the BrainBridge team can provide the necessary speed and conditions for a head transplant to prevent tissue death, we can assume that the person will survive the operation. But in this case, scientists will also have to solve a number of technical issues, such as eliminating immune rejection and controlling pain after such an incredibly traumatic surgical procedure.

Can a human head be transplanted? Human head transplants are currently not possible: Image source: BrainBridge. Photo.In addition, it is unknown what will happen to the person after he wakes up. Although the team claims that their system will keep people's consciousness intact, the nature of consciousness is not yet fully known. The same goes for memory – there are many theories about how it works, but there is no consensus on this yet.

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In general, at present, human head transplantation is not a real possibility. For example, according to neuroscientist and honorary research fellow at Cardiff University's School of Psychology, Dr Dean Burnett, talk of head transplants is like “a dozen unlikely and outlandish statements rolled into one convenient package.”

But even if scientists manage to solve all the existing problems and difficulties, the question of the ethics of this idea arises. Nevertheless, Robert J. White was confident that one day a human head transplant would definitely take place, and his work would be justified.