A Russian with a rare genetic disorder has been identified as the man willing to receive the world’s first human head transplant.
Valery Spiridonov, a 30-year-old computer scientist, has come forward as the man who wants to undergo the procedure, which has never before been attempted on a human being, according to the Daily Mail. Several monkeys died about 40 years ago after a doctor tried the surgery on them, reports CNN.
Experts think the notion of transplanting a human head is insane.
Arthur Caplan, Ph.D., director of medical ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center, told CNN that Canavero is “nuts” and that the procedure is “a PR stunt.”
Popular Science compared the procedure, which Canavero estimated will take 36 hours, to something from the Marlon Brando movie “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” which starred Brando as a doctor trying to turn animals into humans.
Dr. Hunt Batjer, chairman of neurological surgery at University of Texas Southwestern and president-elect of the American Association for Neurological Surgeons, told CNN that he “would not wish this on anyone, I would not allow anyone to do it to me, there are a lot of things worse than death.”
Batjer also argued that, in the monkey experiments, that there is “no evidence that the spinal cord was anastomosed functionally.”
Dr. Sergio Canavero, an Italian surgeon, claims he can sever Spiridinov’s head from his body and attach it to another human body. After four weeks Canavero claims, the Russian would be completely healed.
Spiridinov has Werdnig-Hoffman disease, which causes the nerve cells in the spinal cord and brain stem to break down, and uses a wheelchair as a result of severe muscle atrophy. His suffering is so great, he says, that he’s willing to do anything to try to improve his life — even if it means switching bodies.
“I don’t really have many choices,” he told the Daily Mail. “If I don’t try this chance, my fate will be very sad. With every year my state is getting worse.”
“I can hardly control my body now. I need help every day, every minute. I am now 30 years old, although people rarely live to more than 20 with this disease.”
The doctor believes his method will be successful because he will use a very sharp blade that will minimise the spinal damage suffered in injuries that normally lead to paralysis and then basically glue the spinal cord back together, he explained during a TEDx talk late last year. He calls the material he will use to fuse the nerve endings his “magic ingredient.”
Canavero insisted: “A human head can be transplanted … we can make paraplegic patients stand up, move their legs and take steps.”
By inducing coma for several weeks, Canavero believes that he can force the body to heal to the point that Spiridinov can live a normal life. But there has never been any successful medical experiment to suggest this is possible.
The surgery will not happen until at least 2017, Canavero previously said during the TEDx talk in which he claimed he could “prove all the experts wrong.”
In the early 1970s, Dr. Robert White of Case Western Reserve University transplanted a monkey’s head onto another monkey. The monkey survived the operation but died eight days later when the body rejected the head, reports CNN.
Canavero has given the procedure the acronym HEAVEN, which stands for “head anastomosis venture.” Anastomosis is the surgical joining of two parts, Canavero told his audience.
Despite the criticism, the surgeon remains undeterred. He plans to present his methodology to the American Academy of Neurological and Orthopaedic Surgeons, reports Mic News. If granted approval, he would be able to partner with a academic medical center.
Canavero claims it will take two years to prepare and that he will need a staff of 150 nurses.
Despite all the uncertainty surrounding the operation, and having never had his medical records reviewed by the doctor, Spridinov told the Daily Mail he remains confident in the plan.
Canavero and his would-be patient have spoken only by Skype. They have never met in person. But Spiridinov is confident he has made the right decision.
“I don’t do this because I don’t have a life but I think that science is developed by those who are ready to take risks and devote themselves to it,” said the Russian.
“Am I afraid? Yes, of course I am. But it is not just very scary, but also very interesting.”
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