In a procedure that would be nothing short of revolutionary, a 30-year-old Russian man has volunteered to be the first to have his head transplanted onto another human body.
In an interview with Russia Today, Valery Spiridonov, the volunteer, explained that he has a rare muscle condition called Werdnig-Hoffmann disorder, a.k.a. spinal muscular atrophy, which causes one’s muscles to waste away and has no known cure.
He believes the surgery could help prolong his life but also be a huge boon for scientific research.
“I’m very interested in technology, and anything progressive that might change people’s lives for the better,” Spiridonov told RT. “Doing this isn’t only an excellent opportunity for me, but will also create a scientific basis for future generations, no matter what the actual outcome of the surgery is.”
The operation will reportedly last up to 36 hours and cost an estimated $US11 million. The entire procedure will require the assistance of around 150 doctors and nurses, but the RT reports the whole operation will be orchestrated by Dr. Sergio Canavero, a renowned neurosurgeon and director of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group in Turin, Italy.
Dr. Canavero explained this procedure — called “HEAVEN,” an acronym for “head anastomosis venture” — in a TedX talk from December, embedded here.
Spiridonov’s new body will be taken from “a brain-dead but otherwise healthy donor,” but Spiridonov’s brain will be cooled down to between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit to prolong the time brain cells can survive without oxygen. The spinal cord will be cut with a special scalpel that’s especially sharp, and the head will be reconnected to the new body and spinal cord with “a special biological glue.”
Once the operation is finished, Spiridonov will be put into a coma for around three to four weeks to prevent any movement, and his body will be taken immunosuppressents so the body doesn’t reject the new head.
Though this surgery could be a major breakthrough in science, some doctors believe there are too many risks involved in such a long, complicated and dangerous procedure. Dr. Hunt Batjer, president elect of the American Association for Neurological Surgeons, told CNN, “I would not wish this on anyone… I would not allow anyone to do it to me as there are a lot of things worse than death.”
Still, Spiridonov says he is aware of the risks. He believes this will do more good than harm.
“This technology is similar to the first man to walk in space,” he told RT. “This is because in the future it will help thousands of people who are in an even more deplorable state than I am.”