Quirks and Quarks

Canadian creates nanotech to make head transplants less risky

A new nanotechnology tool could help fuse the spinal cords of a head to its new body.
Valery Spiridonov, a 31-year-old Russian graphic artist, with severe muscular atrophy has volunteered to be a test patient in a head transplant led by neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero. / YURI KADOBNOV/AFP/Getty Images) (AFP/Getty Images)

The closer we get to the end the year, the closer we get to the ground-breaking, if not science-fiction-sounding, head transplant surgery slated to take place in 2017. That is when the Italian surgeon, Dr. Sergio Canavero, and his team will remove the head from a terminally ill patient with a devastating muscle wasting disease. Then his head will be surgically attached to a donor body from someone whose brain is dead, but body works perfectly fine. 


To say the surgery is risky is an understatement, but thanks to a Canadian graduate student from Langley, British Columbia, it could now be significantly less risky.

William Sikkema is a Ph.D candidate in Chemistry, specializing in biomedical nanotechnology who's working out of Rice University in Houston, Texas. He helped to develop a nanotechnology tool that could help fuse the spinal cords.

The tool is a graphene nanoribbon, just one atom thick. It acts like a scaffold to help neurons know which way to grow,  so that two spinal cords can reconnect. When they tested this on rats whose spines were severed to the point of paralysis, not only did their spinal cords reconnect, but the one rat that lived managed to walk again.

So now the Italian surgeon conducting the head transplant plans on using Sikkema's novel neural scaffold nanotechnolgy tool.

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