It sounds like the story of a horror film, but an Italian surgeon has stated that he is prepared to perform the world’s first head transplant, and he even has a patient lined up.
Dr. Sergio Canavero has not actually met potential patient Valery Spiridonov yet, nor has he reviewed his medical files, but they have chatted via Skype.
Mr Spiridonov, 30, is a computer scientist from Russia, and has complete faith in the controversial surgeon, saying: “My decision is final and I do not plan to change my mind.”
The 30 year-old has suffered from the rare genetic Werdnig-Hoffman muscle wasting disease all his life, and now wants the chance of a new body, before it’s too late.
“Am I afraid? Yes, of course I am. But it is not just very scary, but also very interesting,” he said from his home in Vladimir, a city that lies 120 miles east of Moscow.
“But you have to understand that I don’t really have many choices”, he said. “If I don’t try this chance my fate will be very sad. With every year my state is getting worse.”
The doctor has called the procedure HEAVEN, which is an acronym for head anastomosis venture. An anastomosis is a surgical connection of two parts. He has said to the press that all the medical techniques are already there in order for the procedure to take place, but experts are worried, and call his plans ‘pure fantasy’.
The first head transplant was carried out in 1970 when Robert White successfully transplanted the head of one rhesus monkey onto the body of a second monkey. The monkey survived the 18 hour operation and when awoke from its ordeal, snapped at White angrily with its teeth.
It died a day and a half later due to surgical complications but was essentially a head on a bed, paralysed from the neck down.
The human head transplant is said to cost in the region of £7.5 million, the operation would last for 36 hours, and could only be carried out in one of the world’s most advanced operating theatres. The donor body would have to come from someone who was brain dead, but otherwise had a healthy body.
The donor and recipient would have to have their heads removed at exactly the same time, then the patient’s head would be attached to the donor’s body using what Dr. Canavero calls his ‘magic ingredient’ – this is a glue-like substance called polyethylene glycol used to fuse the two ends of the spinal cord together.
Once this is completed the arteries and veins would be connected and muscle tissue would be attached before the patient is put into an induced coma for four weeks. This is to ensure there is no movement whilst the head and body heal.
Dr. Canavero says that once the patient is awoken from the coma, the patient should be able to move their hands and feet and even speak using their old voice. However, experts in the medical field state that the surgeon has grossly under-estimated the difficulties in re-attaching the spinal cord.
Critics say Dr Canavero has simplified the difficulties involved in reattaching a spinal cord. Despite the risks, Mr Spiridonov is determined to go ahead with the procedure. He told the Mailonline:
“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.”
And his family support his decision to be the world’s first human to undergo a human head transplant. It was in fact, his idea to get in touch with Dr. Canavero:
“I contacted Professor Canavero two years ago after reading about his works. I offered myself to him to make this operation possible. We have never met and we just communicate via emails.
“For the last two years we’ve been talking this idea through and planning the operation.
“He’s a very experienced neurosurgeon and has conducted many serious operations. Of course he has never done anything like this and we have to think carefully through all the possible risks.”