According to Digital Journal, this bold move was considered impossible just a few years ago, but Dr. Canavero is confident the transplant of a human head onto another human body in a two-part procedure is indeed now doable (1).
He published how he was going to perform the surgery in the Surgical Neurology International. Dr. Canavero also explained his proposed procedure during the 30th annual conference of the American Academy of Neurological and Orthopedic Surgeon (2).
In spite of his resolve, many peers and others are very doubtful Dr. Canavero can successfully pull off such a momentous surgical accomplishment. In fact, many have stated to undertake such a surgery is actually unethical.
The naysayers point to the previous head transplants performed on monkeys and dogs. Those animals died within a few days or weeks of the surgery. They were unable to move more than their eyes and mouths. Concerns that a human wouldn’t have brain function or at best might be paralyzed motivate other medical professionals to condemn Dr. Canavero’s plans.
Meet First Head Transplant Patient
In spite of those who condemn his plans to transplant a human head onto a human body, Dr. Canavero has a willing patient waiting in the wings. 31-year old Russian program manager, Valery Spiridonov is slated as the very first human head transplant. Spiridonov suffers from Werdnig-Hoffman disease, which is a rare muscular atrophy disorder that usually strikes infants, but can occur in adulthood.
According to Russia Today, Spiridonov states his condition is deteriorating. A muscle wasting disease, most Werdnig-Hoffman patients die within 20 years (3).
The National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD) states that patients suffer “degeneration of nerve cells (motor nuclei) within the lowest region of the brain (lower brainstem) and certain motor neurons in the spinal cord (anterior horn cells) leading to muscle weakness…” (4)
Dr. Canavero explains the two procedures as “Heaven or head anastomosis venture; and Gemini, or the subsequent spinal cord fusion.”
According to Dr. Canavero, the 36-hour surgery has a 90% chance of success. It will require a 150-member surgical team and the total surgery cost will be $20 million.
The two-part procedure will involve decapitating the patient’s head and attaching it to another human body of a brain-dead healthy donor. Spiridonov will first be placed in a state of hypothermia with his temperature lowered to 59° Fahrenheit and then his heart will be stopped.
Using a “special biological glue” the surgeons will then connect Spiridonov’s head to the donor body. Assuming the surgery is a success, Spiridonov will stay in an induced coma for the next 3-4 weeks to keep him immobile while his head and new body heal. Immunosuppressants will be administered to prevent the donor body from rejecting Spiridonov’s head.
Controversy over First Human Head Transplant
Not everyone believes Dr. Canavero’s head transplant will work and he’s come under intense criticism by peers and others who believe that the surgery he wants to perform is unethical.
While monkey and dog head transplants have been successfully performed, they weren’t without complications. The animals weren’t able to move their new bodies and all died within a few days.
Live Science points to the very macabre 1940 experiment; Russian scientists claimed they’d decapitated several dogs. They also released a film of the dog heads that supposedly remained alive for several hours. The scientists stated they’d used a system that generated artificial blood circulation to keep the dogs alive (5).
According to Live Science, Dr. Canavero has worked with researchers from South Korea and China to put him closer to achieving his goal of the first human head transplant.
Daily Mail reports that Dr. Canavero claims that Chinese scientists have already performed the first human head transplant, but offered no proof (6).
Dr. Canavero, his supporters and potential patient (Valery Spiridonov) all believe that head transplants may offer new life to paralyzed and otherwise disabled individuals in the very near future.