A Chinese doctor from Harbin Medical University has had success performing head transplant surgeries on mice. He hopes his research will eventually make the procedure a viable option for human patients.
Dr. Xiaoping Ren completed his first successful head transplant on a mouse in July 2013. The surgery took 10 hours.
Since then, Dr. Ren and his team have done operations on nearly 1,000 more mice, testing various ways to help them survive longer than their record so far of one day after surgery, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday. His research has received government and university grants totaling roughly $1.6 million, The Journal reported.
Dr. Ren plans to attempt the surgery on monkeys this summer, hoping to create the first head-transplanted primate that can live and breathe on it’s own before moving on to humans, The Journal reported.
“We want to do this clinically, but we have to make an animal model with long-term survival first,” Dr. Ren said, newspaper reported. “Currently, I am not confident to say that I can do a human transplant.”
Dr. Ren studied and worked in the U.S. for more than 15 years before returning to his hometown in northeast China three years ago to take advantage of the Chinese government’s financial support for medical research.
Since the mid-1990s, the Chinese government has been pouring money into scientific research, giving extra attention to projects that are potentially high-impact or groundbreaking. China’s investment in science and technology research rose to 18 percent of the world’s total research-and-development spending last year, from 10 percent in 2009, according to the Battelle Memorial Institute.
“China right now, they want to go to the top. If you think there’s a really great benefit in research, China can put resources to support you,” Dr. Ren said, The Journal reported.
China’s ultimate goal is to be accepted as a scientific powerhouse, observers say.
“The political leaders want to see the Chinese winning the Nobel Prize,” said Cong Cao, a professor of contemporary Chinese studies at the University of Nottingham in the U.K., the newspaper reported.
Dr. Ren said that if head transplants can be perfected, doctors might one day be able to help human patients who have intact brains but broken bodies, such as people with spinal-cord injuries, cancer and muscle-wasting diseases.
• Kellan Howell can be reached at email@example.com.
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