For anyone interested in life extension

post by Nanashi · 2015-04-11T18:34:24.453Z · score: 4 (9 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 21 comments

http://www.businessinsider.com/valery-spiridonov-head-transplant-2015-4

Don't really have much to add beyond this. It's pretty awesome stuff though. The fact that this is even within the realm of possibility makes the argument for cryonics that much stronger. 

21 comments

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comment by CellBioGuy · 2015-04-12T20:20:31.344Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The doctor proposing to do this particular iteration is about half full of shit.

There is zero contention about the fact that you can do the stitching of the blood vessels and tubes and whatnot and have life support happen. Gotta deal with some CRAZY graft vs host disease with drugs, and there might be issues with the Vagus nerve being cut, but there have been head transplants on dogs and monkeys in the past.

But he proposes that he can regrow the spine. He is full of shit about that. There's been small success stories now and then but nothing reliable.

Now, some people might not want to become a full quadriplegic with autonomic nervous system issues who needs to be on a ventilator in perpetuity. Some might.

Here is the REAL ethical issue of such a procedure: the donated body being used could have been carved up into a heart, lungs, liver, pancreas, digestive tract, kidneys, bones, skin... you are using all of that on ONE person when you could have parceled them out and saved eight people.

comment by Nanashi · 2015-04-12T21:21:03.570Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Re: ethics

If the procedure works, you can estimate that its future application can be used to save N lives. You can assign an X% probability to the procedure working. As long as N*X is > 8, it would be more unethical to carve up the body and parcel out the organs.

comment by Bound_up · 2015-04-13T18:03:06.173Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Wouldn't the real equation be N*X > 8N ?

Because the real question is if you save more lives using one body for one life, or one body for eight lives.

Unless (pardon me, this just occurred to me) you're calculating that this one procedure will save all of those lives for a one-shot cost of eight lives.

Even so, all the future lives it saves will come at an opportunity cost of eight other lives not saved, right?

Perhaps I'm missing something, but this seems clear to me.

None of which is to say that the research isn't worth doing anyway, necessarily.

comment by Nanashi · 2015-04-13T18:50:38.199Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I probably could have clarified: "N" stands for the number of lives you estimate this procedure could save above and beyond the "default". In other words, "Net future lives saved with body-transplant technology" minus "Net future lives saved without body-transplant technology"

An example would be, say that there are not any viable hosts for a cadaver's organs, so normally they would just have to cremate him which is +0 lives. But in this situation, they could transplant a head onto the body, which is +1 lives. And say that scenario plays out 50,000 times over the next however many years. So N=50,000.

Of course N will be much lower for you personally if you find that example (and other similar ones) unrealistic.

comment by evand · 2015-04-12T23:52:25.870Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Assuming this procedure worked generally, is it more ethical to donate the whole body to one person, or to parcel it up and donate the organs individually? If the latter, is there an ethical application for this procedure?

If the successful procedure is ethical, I'm inclined to err on the side of assuming the research is ethical. If it's not, we get into the much more complicated problem of a shortage of donated organs, despite what appears to be an available effective and ethical solution (making organ donation opt-out instead of opt-in).

So, in a sane world, I'd be inclined to conclude it was ethical because there wouldn't be an organ shortage. In an insane world, I'm somewhat leery of ethical conclusions that assume no other ethically mandated changes are allowable.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-04-11T18:58:55.281Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The fact that some Russian's try to do it doesn't itself prove that it can be done. It's more interesting to see the result when they are through with their experiment.

comment by Nanashi · 2015-04-11T19:09:25.330Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The guy behind the procedure is actually a pretty well respected neuroscientist. It's just that the only volunteer was some random russian guy dying from a degenerative illness.

But regardless, yes, I will be paying very close attention to the results of this.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-04-11T20:35:09.030Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's just that the only volunteer was some random russian guy dying from a degenerative illness.

Are you sure that the funding comes from outside Russia?

comment by Nanashi · 2015-04-11T22:50:42.384Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Don't know about the funding but the doctor is from Italy and is pretty well renowned.

http://www.surgicalneurologyint.com/article.asp?issn=2152-7806;year=2013;volume=4;issue=2;spage=335;epage=342;aulast=Canavero

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-04-11T23:33:32.045Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Who in Italy is willing to spend 11 million dollar on something like this?

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-11T23:50:33.824Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It's venture capital. They basically bet on a couple of lines in future history books. That's also why I don't think Dr. Canavero will have trouble finding 150 colleagues and nurses which are similarly interested in the prospect on exceptional fame. I think, though, that they will very likely fail to convince the ethics committees.

comment by pianoforte611 · 2015-04-11T23:41:01.868Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm very surprised that this has been done with dogs and rats, but as I did expect the nerves did not join and the result is a quadriplegic.

comment by Dahlen · 2015-04-12T00:00:35.399Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Is it even possible in theory for nerves of two originally different organisms to join? And so many of them?

comment by evand · 2015-04-12T23:55:32.795Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, it's possible. I assume "so many of them" is mostly a matter of very, very difficult details of precision surgery and such. I see no particular reason to assume it would require a dramatic breakthrough, instead of (a very large number of) incremental improvements.

comment by CellBioGuy · 2015-04-13T00:05:10.320Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It should be noted that this is not actually connecting neuron fibers. This is providing empty myelin sheath, with the nerve cells within dead and destroyed due to being cut off from their cell bodies. When the living ends of a cut nerve fiber on the end that contains the cell body are left undisturbed, a subset of them send out growth cones that wander out from the cut. If theres nothing there they dont do much but if a bunch of open ends of myelin sheaths are brought up next to them they will find sheaths and grow through them at something like a millimeter per day to the positions of the former nerve endings of the grafted nerve. You can string together multiple cut nerve fragments in fact, if a nerve is damaged in multiple places due to trauma.

The fibers are not going to grow to their original destinations, and your brain needs to relearn what the heck its controlling or feeling once the fibers grow the long distance through the nerve, but they can regrow and people can and do relearn how to use the remapped fibers. You can even transfer/remap which nerves control what within an individual: see http://nerve.wustl.edu/nd_transfer.php .

Notably, this happens automatically in the peripheral nervous system but usually not the central nervous system. All the attempts do do so in the spinal cord itself, a CNS tissue, have relied on weird interventions and are by no means reliably successful and have never involved tissue from two organisms to my knowledge.

Motor neuron fibers would need to grow from the brain down through the spine, and sensory fibers would need to grow from the spine up into the brain itself. That is not a process that I would expect to go nearly as well in an adult compared to during initial development.

comment by CellBioGuy · 2015-04-13T00:46:27.889Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What about the proposed procedure makes cryonics more attractive? Not making a point, I just don't see the connection.

comment by Nanashi · 2015-04-13T01:50:15.684Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If there's precedent for successfully reattaching a head to a body, then keeping your head on ice after death has a much higher probability of "working".

comment by James_Miller · 2015-04-12T19:03:32.657Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What happens if you can greatly extend the life of an old person by transplanting his head onto the body of a healthy young person?

comment by SolveIt · 2015-04-12T00:54:45.888Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Reading through the reactions to this (Not necessarily just this article), I see a lot of negativity. Why is the go-to reaction for so many people one of horror? Is it just because this is unprecedented?

comment by Nanashi · 2015-04-12T02:46:48.825Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think that, for a bunch of people, their way of coping with death is to "accept" it as part of the natural order of things. Every time you watched parent, friend, relative, spouse, loved one, etc. die, you tell yourself that it had to happen. That's just the way things are.

Then something like this comes along. And it's an ugly reminder of the true scope of the tragedy of death: all those friends and loved ones, they didn't "just have to" die, and instead of just being a natural thing that just happens to people, their death could have been prevented but wasn't. And I think for a lot of people, it's much easier to just dismiss insert life extending technology here than it is to accept that possibility.

comment by higurashimerlin · 2015-04-11T18:48:03.912Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Yes finally this can be done.