This terminally ill patient to get world’s first human head transplant
It is very heartening to know how medical research and technical knowledge can be combined in the quest to relieve human suffering.
That is what Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero is planning to do. Dr. Canavero is going to perform the first-ever head transplant, wherein he will put the head of a terminally ill, wheelchair-bound patient on a completely new body in December 2017. However, neither the exact date nor location has been chosen yet.
Russian citizen Valery Spiridonov (31), who is a computer scientist, is suffering from a rare and incurable spinal muscular atrophy disease, also known as Werdnig-Hoffman, which can result in problems moving, breathing and swallowing. This condition left him on a wheel chair for most part of his adult life.
Most people with the disease die within the first few years of life, but Spiridonov is among the 10 percent who survive into adulthood.
With his condition worsening every day, Spiridonov looks at the head transplant as his only chance to have a new body, as the disease is certainly going to kill him.
Spiridonov, who will be the first human to undergo such surgery, said that his family fully supported his decision. “If you want something to be done, you need to participate in it. I do understand the risks of such surgery. They are multiple. We can’t even imagine what exactly can go wrong. I’m afraid that I wouldn’t live long enough to see it happen to someone else,” he added.
The new body would come from a transplant donor who is classified brain dead but otherwise healthy.
Spiridonov has also affirmed his readiness to subject his life and trust in controversial surgeon, Dr. Canavero a.k.a. Frankenstein, who has been condemned for planning to perhaps do an unethical and definitely dangerous operation.
Dr. Canavero has named the procedure HEAVEN, which is an acronym for Head Anastomosis Venture. Anastomosis involves the surgical connecting of two parts. There are several things that could go wrong in such a medical feat, whose main difficulty is seen in the fusion of the spinal cords.
“I continue the dialogue with Canavero, we exchange the information and as far as I know, he is preparing a portion of news this September,” Spiridonov said at the press conference at Rossiya Segonya press center.
Dr. Canavero is raising around $18 million to pay for the procedure. The £14 million experimental transplant carried out by Dr. Canavero is likely to take 36-hours and will involve over 150 doctors and nurses.
The controversial operation will involve cooling his head to around 12 degrees Celsius, cutting it from his body and connecting it to the donated body of a brain-dead person. The spinal cords would be fused together while the muscle and blood supply would be attached.
After the surgery, Valery will be kept in a medically-induced coma for three to four weeks while doctors stimulate his spinal cord nerves to reconnect and start functioning.
When asked how he thinks about doing the revolutionary surgery, Spiridonov said, “If I manage to replace my body and if everything goes well, it will allow me to be free of the limitations I am experiencing. I am not rushing to go under the surgeon’s knife, I am not shouting – come and save me here and now. Yes, I do have a disease which often leads to death, but my first role in this project is not that of a patient. First of all, I am a scientist, I am an engineer, and I am keen to persuade people – medical professionals – that such operation is necessary. I am not going crazy here and rushing to cut off my head, believe me. The surgery will take place only when all believe that the success is 99% possible. In other words, the main task now is to get support for Canavero from the medical community, to let him go on with his methods and to improve them within these two coming years.”
Dr. Canavero sees the potential use of his procedure could not only give new hope to thousands of paralysed and disabled people, but also a shot to increase lifespan.
“We are one step closer to extend life indefinitely because when I will be able to give a new body to an 80-year-old they could live for other 40 years,” said the Italian surgeon.
Spiridonov, who is also a tech scientist, presented his autopilot wheelchair system at a press conference in Moscow. His project – called Clever Chair – is aimed at improving the quality of life for people who can’t walk. He wished for his project to complement the head transplant procedure, “I want to help as many people as I can with the technologies that do not raise doubts and debates,” – like Dr. Canavero’s.