Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero is planning to perform the first-ever head transplant in December 2017. He will put the head of a terminally ill, wheelchair-bound Russian citizen Valery Spiridonov (31) on an entirely new body.
Spiridonov, a computer scientist, has Werdnig-Hoffman disease, a rare and incurable spinal muscular atrophy. As the disease is sure to kill him, Spiridonov sees the head transplant as his one shot to have a new body.
The controversial surgeon Canavero, dubbed by some “Dr. Frankenstein,” has been criticized for intending to do a possibly unethical and certainly dangerous operation. There are numerous things that could go wrong in such a medical feat that’s never been successfully carried out on humans. The main difficulty is seen in the fusion of the spinal cords.
One positive precedent has been set earlier this year by a team of Chinese surgeons, who successfully transplanted a monkey’s head. Dr. Xiaoping Ren, from Harbin Medical University, led that effort.
Canavero is raising around $18 million to pay for the procedure that he named “HEAVEN” (an acronym for “head anastomosis venture”). The details the doctor has given so far for the two-day operation first involve cooling the patient’s head to -15 C. Then the heads of both the patient and the donor would be severed and the patient’s would be attached to the donor’s body. The spinal cords would be fused together while the muscle and blood supply would be attached. Spiridonov would then be placed into a coma for about a month to prevent movement and to allow for healing.
The donor of the body would be brain-dead, but otherwise healthy.