Despite these not-so-encouraging designations, the world’s first human head transplant is still on track to be carried out in December 2017 by Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero.
The patient who he intends to carry out the surgery on is wheelchair-bound, terminally ill Russian citizen Valery Spiridonov (31). Valery Spiridonov will have his head put on an entirely new body.
Valery Spiridonov is a computer scientist who has the Werdnig-Hoffman disease, a rare and incurable spinal muscular atrophy. It is a disease that is almost certain to kill him and so he invites the head transplant as his one shot to have a new body.
Canavero is a controversial surgeon who has been dubbed by some as ‘Dr. Frankeinstein’. Although, a little positive light has been cast on the procedure after a team of Chinese surgeons (led by Dr. Xiaoping Ren, from Harbin Medical University), successfully transplanted a monkey’s head earlier this year, a lot of skepticism still exists.
There are numerous things that could go wrong in such a medical feat that’s never been successfully carried out on humans. The main difficulty is seen in the fusion of the spinal cords. To carry out the transplant, the donor of the body would have to be brain dead but otherwise very healthy.
Canavero has given some details on what the first human head transplant would entail. He describes it as a two-day operation that would first involve cooling the patient’s head to -15 C.
Then the heads of both the patient and the donor would be severed and the patient’s would be attached to the donor’s body. The spinal cords would be fused together while the muscle and blood supply would be attached. The patient would then be placed into a coma for about a month to prevent movement and to allow for healing.
The surgeon is raising around $18 million to pay for the procedure that he named “HEAVEN” (an acronym for ‘head anastomosis venture’). He said about the procedure; “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”.