Few months back, it was reported that an Italian physician is to announce updated plans to perform the world’s initial human head transplant with the coming 2 years. Now, a 30 years Russian man is set to become the initial person to go through the procedure.
Dr. Sergio Canavero, of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group (TANG) in Italy, first spoke of his plans to conduct the initial human head transplantation in July 2013 – a project titled HEAVEN-GEMINI.
At the American Academy of Neurological and Orthopedic Surgeons’ 39th Annual Conference in Annapolis, MD, in June, Dr. Canavero will provide updated strategies for the project, addressing some of the earlier determined issues that come with it.
Though investigators have seriously questioned the practicality of Dr. Canavero’s plans, it looks the initial human head transplantation is a step closer to becoming a reality; Valery Spiridonov, a 30 year old computer scientist from Vladimir, Russia, is the initial person to volunteer for the procedure.
Spiridonov has Werdnig-Hoffman condition – a rare genetic muscle wasting problem, also known to as type 1 spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). The problem is triggered by the loss of motor neurons in the spinal cord and the brain area connected to the spinal cord. People with the disease are not able to walk and are usually not able to sit unaided.
Spiridonov was clinically diagnosed with Werdnig-Hoffman disease at the age of 1 and informed MailOnline that he volunteered for HEAVEN-GEMINI because he wants the chance of a new body before he dies.
‘”I can hardly manage my body now,” he said. I need help every day, every moment. I am now 30 years old, even though people rarely live to over 20 with this condition.
Donor body will be connected to recipient’s head via spinal cord fusion
Dr. Canavero informed CNN he has received an array of e-mails and letters from individuals asking to be considered for the procedure, most of which have been from transgender people seeking a new body. However, the surgeon states that the first individual to go through the procedure will be those with muscle wasting problems like Spiridonov.
The process – which is projected to take 100 surgeons about 36 hours to finish – will involve spinal cord fusion (SCF). The head from a donor body will be taken out using an “ultra-sharp blade” in order to reduce the amount of damage the spinal cord sustains.
Dr. Canavero describes about the Spinal Cord Fusion in a paper presented earlier this year
“The key to SCF is a sharp severance of the cords themselves, with its attendant minimal harm to both the axons in the white matter and the neurons in the gray laminae. This is a important point.”
The spinal cord of the donor body will then be fused with the spinal cord of the recipient’s head. Chemicals known as polyethylene glycol or chitosan can be applied to encourage SCF, with respect to Dr. Canavero. The muscles and blood supply will then be sutured.
The recipient will be kept in a coma for about 3-4 weeks, says Dr. Canavero, during which time the spinal cord will be subject to electrical stimulation through implanted electrodes to be able to boost the new nerve connections.
The surgeon predicts that – with the help of physical treatment – the individual would be capable to walk within 1 year.
Spiridonov admits he is worried about going through the process. “Am I afraid? Yes, certainly I am,” he informed MailOnline. “But it is not just extremely scary, but also really interesting.”
“You have to understand that I don’t actually have many options,” he added. “If I do not try this chance my fate will be extremely sad. With every year my condition is getting worse.”
Spiridonov states that he is well informed of the risks, though he is still eager to take a chance on Dr. Canavero.
“He’s a very expert neurosurgeon and has performed many serious surgical procedures. Of course he has certainly not done anything like this and we have to think properly through all the possible challenges,” he told MailOnline, but adds that “if you want something to be done, you have to take part in it.”
Though it not been confirmed when the process will be conducted, Spiridonov says it could be as soon as next year.