Human Head Transplant Moves A Step Closer

An Italian neurosurgeon has moved closer to his goal of transplanting a human head, revealing a virtual reality system that will “prepare patients for life in a new body”.

Professor Sergio Canavero wants to carry out the operation for the first time next year, saying it could help those paralysed from the neck down to walk again.

Valery Spiridonov, a Russian man with a genetic muscle-wasting disease, has volunteered to be the first patient.

But putting someone’s head onto someone else’s body could lead to “unexpected psychological reactions” so US firm Inventum Bioengineering Technologies has created a virtual reality world that it says will help train patients such as Mr Spiridonov.

Inventum chief executive Alexander Pavlovcik said the virtual reality system would be used before the surgery to prevent these unexpected reactions.

He added: “We are combining the latest advancements in virtual reality to develop the world’s first protocol for preparing the patient for bodily freedom after the transplantation procedure.”

When Professor Canavero revealed the system during a conference at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow on Friday, he described it as “prepar(ing) the patient in the best possible way for a new world that he will be facing with his new body – a world in which he will be able to walk again”.

Mr Spiridonov said it was “extremely important” in helping patients “get involved into action and (to) learn fast and efficiently”.

Professor Canavero also displayed the knife that will be used for the head transplant – a custom-made blade that can control cuts to a micrometre (one millionth of a metre) to allow the precision required to cut the spinal cord.

He said that the knife, developed by an American professor, will allow a “clear cut of the spinal cord with a minimal impact on the nerves”.

He told Sky News that he was looking to take the procedure global, saying that “Asia is moving, so expect more news coming out over the next few months” and “the UK is very well poised to do this”.

He showed little concern for the views of his critics, some of whom have described his work as Frankenstein surgery.

He said: “To all the critics I say go and see what happens when you’re affected by a wasting disorder…trade places with (Mr Spiridonov) and then you tell me.

“That’s my counter criticism for the critics.”

In January, Mr Canavero worked with Chinese researchers to do a head transplant on a monkey, connecting the animal’s blood supply after the operation to prove it could survive without brain injuries.

The monkey was only kept alive for 20 hours, as the team did not join its spinal cords, meaning it would have been paralysed.

Man With Tennis Ball-Size Tongue Pleads For Life-Changing Operation

A young man with a tennis ball-size tumor in the blood vessels of his tongue struggles to breathe and risks choking daily due to the organ’s inflated size.

Central European News (CEN) reported that doctors tried to operate on 18-year-old Krzysztof Wegrzyn twice when he was a boy, but the procedures were called off because of severe blood loss. Wegrzyn, of Grojec, Poland, was born with the benign tumor haemangioma.

Wegrzyn’s family is trying to raise money so he may travel to Germany for an operation to remove the tumor. Specialists at the Zentrum Klinik fur Vasculare Maltformationen in Eberswalde, Brandenburg have said they can help, CEN reported.

“I saw a boy from Norway who underwent an operation there and he looked great,” Wegrzyn told local reporters, according to CEN. “You could not see that he had ever been ill.”

Local reports indicate Wegrzyn’s family is halfway to their goal of about $58,000 to pay for the operation.

CEN reported that if he is able to undergo the procedure, he plans to finish his studies, pass his driving test and become a chef.

“This is my biggest dream but I do not want to be disappointed,” said Wegrzyn, according to CEN.

Illinois Twins Conjoined At The Head Undergo Successful Separation Surgery

A team of surgeons successfully separated a pair of twin boys conjoined at the head in a marathon procedure that lasted more than 16 hours. According to their mother’s Facebook post, 13-month-old twins Jadon and Anias McDonald are not out of the woods yet, but each underwent reconstructive surgery on their skulls early Friday.

“TWO SEPARATE BABIES!!!… and yet I ache with the uncertainty of the future,” Nicole McDonald wrote in part on Facebook. “I didn’t cry until the surgeons left the room. I was barely able to even utter the words ‘thank you’ because of the pit that still sits heavy in my stomach. We are standing on the brink of a vast unknown. The next few months will be critical in terms of recovery and we will not know for sure how Anias and Jadon are recovering for many weeks.”

McDonald and her husband, Christian, were already parents to 2-year-old Aza when they found out they were expecting twins in March 2015. According to a post on the family’s GoFundMe page, McDonald was informed that her twins were conjoined at the head around 17 weeks into her pregnancy.

“I was given the option on many occasions to abort my precious babies,” McDonald wrote on the page. “I kindly declined. I heard their heart beats…they spent their life listening to mine. It was my job as their mother to give them life and I decided that I would give everything up, if need to, to do so.”

McDonald sought the help of Dr. James Goodrich, of Montifiore Medical Center in New York, who had performed six other separation surgeries. With 20 other team members in the operating room, Goodrich began operating on the boys on Thursday.

At around 3 a.m. Friday, Goodrich delivered the news to McDonald and her husband that they had longed to hear.

First Face Transplant Patient Isabelle Dinoire Dies in France

The first-ever person to have a face transplant, Frenchwoman Isabelle Dinoire, has died, French doctors say. In 2005, surgeons gave her a new nose and mouth after she was disfigured by her pet dog.

But heavy use of immunosuppressant drugs weakened her and she succumbed to cancer in April at the age of 49, the BBC’s Hugh Schofield in Paris says.

News of her death, announced by a hospital in Amiens, was delayed to respect her family’s privacy.

She told the BBC in 2009 that when she looked in the mirror she saw a mixture of herself and the donor. “The donor is always with me,” she said.

Figaro newspaper said she had suffered another transplant rejection. The strong anti-rejection treatment she was receiving led to two cancers, it added.

In her BBC interview she said her disfigurement by her dog had come as a result of an attempt to end her life.

After taking an overdose of sleeping pills, she awoke lying beside a pool of blood, with her pet Labrador at her side. The dog had apparently found her unconscious, and desperate to rouse her, had gnawed away at her face.

The injuries to her mouth, nose and chin were so extreme that doctors ruled out a routine face reconstruction. Instead they proposed a ground-breaking face transplant.

She was happy with the surgery but expressed distress at the attention from the media and passers-by that the operation brought her.

In recent years, face transplants have been performed in several countries, including the US, Spain, Turkey, China and Poland.

For Obesity Surgery, Consider Accredited Centers

Patients have better weight loss surgery outcomes in accredited centers, a review of past studies has found. Researchers analyzed 13 studies with a combined 1.5 million participants that examined the differences in deaths and major complications at accredited versus non-accredited centers.

The studies suggest that costs are lower, and the quality of patients’ experiences is better, at hospitals with accreditation for bariatric surgery.

Accreditation means the hospital has passed a rigorous review process during which it proved that it can maintain certain physical resources, staffing resources, and standards of care.

“Deciding which provider to pick for surgery can be daunting. With so many different rankings out there, it’s hard to figure out what makes a real difference,” study author Dr. John Morton, chief of bariatric and minimally invasive surgery at Stanford School of Medicine in Palo Alto, California, told Reuters Health. “Evidence shows that accreditation does make a difference.”

Morton and colleagues report in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons that in 10 of the 13 studies, accreditation made a significant difference. Six of the eight studies that reported mortality showed a significant reduction at the accredited centers; the risk of death was two to three times higher at hospitals that weren’t accredited.

Eight of 11 studies showed a reduction in major complications, the researchers found.

“While quality and safety of bariatric surgery has improved across the board over the last 10 years, accreditation programs provide the structure, data collection and oversight for quality improvement and assessment of patient outcomes,” said Dr. Stacy Brethauer, a laparoscopic and bariatric surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, who wasn’t involved in the study.

The review comes at a time when weight loss surgery accreditation is under scrutiny nationally. Surgical weight loss has gained in popularity, with more than 180,000 procedures done annually in the U.S., according to the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS).

In response to the growth, ASMBS and the American College of Surgeons created accreditation programs in 2004 and 2005. In 2013, the two nationwide programs merged to create the Metabolic Bariatric Surgery and Quality Improvement Program.

Most insurers still require accreditation for reimbursement, but “the glaring exception is Medicare,” said Morton, also immediate past president of ASMBS.

For several years, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services did require hospitals to be accredited, but it no longer does.

“Maybe that should be reexamined, especially because Medicare patients are some of our highest-risk patients who could benefit even more,” Morton said.

Accreditation for bariatric surgery benefits other hospital departments, too, Morton noted. Required resources – such as specialized exam tables and chairs – help accommodate obese patients hospitalized for other reasons, he said.

“Accredited centers also have the multidisciplinary team, with experts in psychology and nutrition, for example, to better take care of patients after surgery,” Morton said. “It’s the whole culture, frankly.”

Most of the studies spanned the years 2002 to 2011, when centers were increasing the use of less invasive laparoscopy and gastric banding, which likely improved outcomes. In addition, researchers lacked data on patients’ risk factors, such as their body mass index or how sick they were at the time of surgery.

Also, the authors point out, accreditation itself may not directly improve outcomes, but rather the surgeon quality or institution volume associated with accreditation.

“Like any systematic review, the findings are only as good as the studies that are used to comprise it,” Brethauer said by email. “In this case, there are relatively few large studies done by a small number of researchers. Fortunately, the quality of the papers and the number of the patients overall helps to support the findings.”

As the demand for bariatric surgery grows, patients should research their surgeons and surgery centers before making critical decisions about an operation, said Dr. Samer Mattar, chief of the bariatric services program at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland.

“Accredited institutions provide a higher quality of care,” said Mattar, who wasn’t involved in the study. “This confirms that it’s not a coincidence or fluke. It’s a reality.”

For Many, Life After Surgery Is Surprisingly Hard

As heart patients survive ever more complex surgeries, they are often surprised by how tough it can be to bounce back after the operation.

While recovery can be a long slog after any major surgery, invasive procedures on the body’s most vital organ can be especially traumatic. During heart surgery, the body’s natural inflammatory response to injury can be dramatically amplified, leading to complications such as altered liver and kidney function. Patients may emerge not only physically frail, but also have trouble with brain function due to heavy anesthesia.

As much as 40 percent of patients suffer from depression after cardiac surgery, research shows. And in older patients, psychological and social issues such as isolation and a lack of a strong support network can also limit recovery after the stress of cardiac surgery, according to a study published in April in the journal Experimental Gerontology.

“Cardiac surgery is not just a physical thing, but a big stressor on cognitive function, psychological health, and overall health, and it distresses your social and personal environment as well,” says study co-author James L. Rudolph, associate professor at Brown University’s medical school and director of the Center of Innovation in Long-Term Services and Supports at the Providence VA Medical Center, in Rhode Island. “Medicine doesn’t do a good job of taking some of those things into account.”

Surgeons typically discuss with patients a detailed list of potential complications and recovery issues, including depression, but often patients and their families are so nervous they may not take it all in, says Robbin G. Cohen, associate professor of cardiothoracic surgery at University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine.

Scientists Make ‘Second Skin’ To Hide Wrinkles

Scientists claim to have developed an invisible elastic film that can be applied to the skin to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and eye bags.

Once applied, the formula dries to form a film that “mimics the properties of youthful skin”, Nature Materials reports after a series of small trials.

At the moment it is being explored as a commercial cosmetic product.

But the US scientists say their “second skin” might eventually be used to deliver medicines and sun protection.

Second skin

The team from Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have tested their prototype product on a handful of volunteers, applying the formula to their under-eye bags, forearms and legs.

The polysiloxane polymer was made in the lab using molecules of silicone and oxygen as the building blocks.

Although it’s synthetic, it’s designed to mimic real skin and provide a breathable, protective layer.

According to the researchers, the temporary film locks in moisture and helps boost skin elasticity.

They performed several tests, including a recoil test where the skin was pinched and then released to see how long it takes to ping back into position.

As skin ages, it becomes less firm and less elastic and so performs less well in this sort of test.

Skin that had been coated with the polymer was more elastic than skin without the film. And, to the naked eye, it appeared smoother, firmer and less wrinkly.

The researchers, who have a spin-off company that could eventually market their patented formula, say the film is essentially invisible, can be worn all day without causing irritation and can withstand things like sweat and rain.

But more studies are needed before then. The polymer would also need safety approval from regulators.

Dr Tamara Griffiths of the British Association of Dermatologists says bags under the eyes are caused by the protrusion of fat pockets associated with ageing.

While entirely natural, some people see it as undesirable and seek ways to reverse it – sometimes resorting to surgery.

Dr Griffiths said: “The results [with the polymer film] appear to be comparable to surgery, without the associated risks. Further research is needed, but this is a novel and very promising approach to a common problem. I will follow its development with interest.”

Prof Robert Langer, who led the work at MIT, said: “Developing a second skin that is invisible, comfortable and effective in holding in water and potentially other materials presents many different challenges.

“It has to have the right optical properties, otherwise it won’t look good, and it has to have the right mechanical properties, otherwise it won’t have the right strength and it won’t perform correctly.

“We are extremely excited about the opportunities that are presented as a result of this work and look forward to further developing these materials to better treat patients who suffer from a variety of skin conditions.”

Chimp Victim Hospitalized With Face-Transplant Complications

The Connecticut woman who underwent a face transplant five years ago after being attacked by a chimpanzee is back in a Boston hospital after doctors discovered her body is rejecting tissue from the transplant.

Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, director of plastic surgery transplantation at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said Wednesday that Charla Nash is experiencing a “moderate rejection episode” and the transplant is not in jeopardy.

Nash was taking part in an experiment in which doctors had tried to wean her off the anti-rejection drugs she had been taking since the 2011 operation. Anti-rejection drugs can have serious side effects, and the military had funded the experiment in hopes of using the findings to help soldiers who had transplants after returning from war.

Pomahac said doctors have removed Nash from the experiment and put her back on her original medication. He said she will most likely leave the hospital in the next day or two.

“We expect this rejection episode to be resolved within the coming week,” he said in a statement.

Nash recently discovered several unusual patches on her face, said Shelly Sindland, her publicist. Doctors on Monday did a biopsy and determined her body was rejecting the transplant, she said.

“I gave it my all and know my participation in the study will still be beneficial,” Nash said in a statement to The Associated Press. “I’d do it all over again, if I could. The men and women serving our country are the true heroes.”

The immunosuppression drugs that transplant patients are typically given for the rest of their lives carry such risks as cancer, viral infections and kidney damage. Because of those dangers, many transplants of non-vital body parts, such as thumbs, are not considered worth doing. But doctors say that could change if the drugs don’t have to be a lifelong commitment.

The Pentagon, which also paid for Nash’s transplant, has provided grants to 14 medical facilities across the U.S. through its hand and face transplantation program. The face and the extremities are the most frequently injured parts of the body in war.

“I’m just happy I had the chance to help,” said Nash, adding that she feels fine. “I wish I could have done more. I believe in the power of prayer and appreciate everyone who is praying for me.”

Nash lost her nose, lips, eyelids and hands when she was mauled in 2009 by her employer’s 200-pound pet chimpanzee in Stamford, Connecticut. Doctors also had to remove her eyes because of a disease transmitted by the chimp.

She later received new facial features taken from a dead woman. She also underwent a double hand transplant, but it failed when her body rejected the tissue.

When she began the experiment involving the suspension of anti-rejection drugs in March, 2015, doctors said it would eventually include other patients and its findings could potentially affect hundreds of thousands of people, military and civilian alike.