Back in February, the Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canaveron of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group (TANG) in Italy, declared for Medical News Today that during the following 2 years will carry out the world’s first head transplant on the 30-year-old Valery Spiridonov from Russia.
Dr. Sergio`s first announcement for the operation was in July 2013 while publishing the project HEAVEN-GEMINI.
The updated version of his plan will be presented during the 39th Annual Conference of the American Academy of Neurological and Orthopedic Surgeons in Annapolis, MD, in June.
The news came as a great shock to everyone, even researchers criticized Dr. Canavero`s plans but surely he will do everything in his power to succeed.
The first volunteer for the procedure is 30-year-old computer scientist Valery Spiridonov, who suffers from a rare genetic muscle wasting condition known as type 1 spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) or Werdnig-Hoffman disease.
Valery`s diagnose is a rare neuromuscular disorder characterised by loss of motor neurons in the spinal cord and the brain region connected to the spinal cord which makes the patient stationary and unable to sit without a wheelchair, often leading to early death.
Doctors told Valery`s parents that he is suffering from Werdnig-Hoffman disease at the age of 1, he said to MailOnline. He applied for the HEAVEN-GEMINI project because sees this opportunity as an escape from his current stationary life and a chance to live longer.
‘”I can hardly control my body now,” he said. “I need help every day, every minute. I am now 30 years old, although people rarely live to more than 20 with this disease.”
Fusion of the Donor body and Valery`s head will be possible with a glue-like substance called polyethylene glycol
Many transgender individuals have reached out to Dr. Canavero to add them to the list for the procedure in attempt to have a new body but only those diagnosed with Werdnig-Hoffman disease like Spiridonov can undergo the surgery, said Dr. Canavero.
The estimated time of the operation is 36 hours and it will take 100 surgeons for the spinal cord fusion (SCF) to be successful. The surgeons will remove the head from the donor’s body with the help of an “ultra-sharp blade” to limit the possibility of damage to the spinal cord.
“The key to SCF is a sharp severance of the cords themselves,” Dr. Canavero explains in a paper published earlier this year, “with its attendant minimal damage to both the axons in the white matter and the neurons in the gray laminae. This is a key point.”
The patient’s head would then be placed onto the donor’s body and attached using polyethylene glycol or chitosan, chemicals that encourage SCF. After that the muscles and blood supply will function accordingly.
After the surgery Spiridonov will be kept in a coma for around 3-4 weeks. Doctors implanted electrodes in his body so that electrical stimulations can boost the new nerve connections. The estimated time for Spiridonov to be able to walk with the help of psychical therapy is 1 year.
Spiridonov expressed his feelings about the procedure. “Am I afraid? Yes, of course I am,” he told MailOnline. “But it is not just very scary, but also very interesting.”
“You have to understand that I don’t really have many choices,” he added. “If I don’t try this chance my fate will be very sad. With every year my state is getting worse.”
More insight on Spiridonov`s decision in the video below:
Dr. Canavero seen as ‘nuts’
According to Dr. Canavero there is a possibility of two unwanted complications to happen with HEAVEN-GEMINI: attaching the severed spinal cord and avoiding the possibility of the immune system to reject the head. Anyways, after he conducted numerous studies on animals, the results have proven that the procedure is “feasible.”
Researchers from all over the world are refusing his idea as highly dangerous, even Arthur Caplan, PhD, the director of medical ethics and NYU Langone Medical Center in New York, NY branded him as ‘nuts’.
According to Caplan before the operation takes place it would have to be conducted a dozen time on animals first. Moreover, Dr. Canavero should be helping paralyzed patients before doing whole body transplants if the process is feasible, says Caplan.
A clinical professor of neurosurgery at the University of California-Davis, Harry Goldsmith said to New Scientist earlier this year that Dr. Canavero is likely to fail his attempt because the whole process is “overwhelming”.
“I don’t believe it will ever work,” he added, “there are too many problems with the procedure. Trying to keep someone healthy in a coma for 4 weeks – it’s not going to happen.”
Valery Spiridonov said that he knows what will happen to his body and he willingly accepts the risks of his life being taken away.
“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,” he told MailOnline, but adds that “if you want something to be done, you need to participate in it.”
The real date for the operation is not known yet, even though Spiridonov says it could be next year.
We interviewed Dr.Canavero about his plans with the HEAVEN-GEMINI project in October 2015. He claimed that the procedure will take place in December 2017 and around 150 surgeons and nurses are going to be needed for it to be successful. The estimated time for the operation is 36 hours and the cost for the whole procedure is around $11 million.You can read the full interview here.