The Russian patient set to undergo the world’s first ever human head transplant, Valery Spiridonov has announced that he is ready for the super-complex operation, which some critics have described as a fantasy.
31-year-old Spiridonov is a computer scientist. He has been restricted in a wheelchair due to a muscle-wasting disease.
Mr Spiridonov is suffering from what is known technically as Werdnig-Hoffman, also known as spinal muscular atrophy. The devastating disease which inflicts its patient during infancy, results in problems moving, breathing and swallowing. Experts say most people with the disease die within the first few years of life. It is estimated that about only 10% patients survive the disease into adulthood.
Spiridonov told the Daily Mail in an interview sometime ago, that his condition is worsening day-by-day, revealing that he wants the chance of having a new body before the disease kills him.
Before the Mail interview, Spiridonov had gone to volunteer as a guinea pig for a complex operation by the Italian neurosurgeon, Dr Sergio Canavero. Dr Canavero announced that he can cut off the head of a human being, attaching it to another human body, and there will still be life. As a severely handicapped person, Spiridonov therefore volunteered; so that his head could be cut off and attach to a healthy body, hoping he can have his freedom to walk. It is said the new body would come from a transplant donor who is classified brain dead, but with a healthy body.
Speaking at a press conference, Spiridonov said he is ready to put his trust in the seemly controversial Dr Canavero. Mr Spiridonov said he is ready for the operation, and that he has been in touch with Dr Canavero who has promised him that he will give details of the operation next month. He also said he fully understand the risks, revealing that his family fully supports his decision to undergo the operation.
“I continue the dialogue with Mr Canavero, we exchange information and as far as I know, he is preparing a portion of news this September. If you want something to be done, you need to participate in it. I do understand the risks of such surgery. They are multiple. We can’t even imagine what exactly can go wrong. I’m afraid that I wouldn’t live long enough to see it happen to someone else,” Spiridonov said.
Despite criticisms by some neurosurgeons, who expect the operation is not possible, Dr Canavero insists it is possible. According to him, all the necessary techniques to transplant a head onto a donor body already exist. He has named the procedure for the operation HEAVEN, which is an acronym for head anastomosis venture. Anastomosis involves the surgical connecting of two parts.
The Daily Mail reports that the cost of the 36-hour operation, which could only be performed in one of the world’s most advanced operating theatres, has been estimated to cost about £14 million.
According to the procedure, narrated by Dr Canavero, both donor and patient would have their head severed from their body at the same time, using an ultra-sharp blade to give a clean cut. The patient’s head would then be placed onto the donor’s body and attached using what Dr Canavero calls his ‘magic ingredient’ – a glue-like substance called polyethylene glycol – to fuse the two ends of the spinal cord together.
The muscles and blood supply would be stitched up, before the patient is put into a coma for four weeks to stop the patient from moving while the head and body heal together. When the coma period elapses, the patient should be able to move, feel his face and even speak with the same voice. Powerful immunosuppressant drugs would then be given to the patient to stop the new body from rejecting the new head.
However, Critics say Dr Canavero has over simplified the difficulties involved in attaching a new human head to a new human body. They believe his procedure is pure fantasy.
The first animal head transplant was performed in 1970 by the American neurosurgeon, Dr Robert White. He transplanted the head of one monkey onto the body of another at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio. But the monkey died just after eight days because the body rejected the head.
Before Dr White died in 2010, he hoped in the 1990’s to perform head transplant surgery on the British Theoretical Physicist, Stephen Hawking and the actor Christopher Reeve.