The first head transplant surgery in the world will not be on the Russian volunteer but with a Chinese national, according to the office of the Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero.
In a new update, the neurosurgeon said that the operation will no longer be performed on Valery Spiridonov of Russia. The terminally ill Russian has been suffering from Werdnig-Hoffman's disease, a condition that cripples muscles.
Canavero was working with the Spiridonov for almost two years and suddenly this unexpected twist has taken place.
Success On Rats Emboldens Italian Surgeon
The Italian neurosurgeon shot to fame with his plan for a human head transplant, which was unveiled in the journal Surgical Neurology Internationali a couple of years ago.
Canavero's experimental work on rats has succeeded. He was able to transplant a small rat's head into another rat by using a third rat as the source of blood to prevent blood loss. The entire operation went well without any blood erosion.
The animals did not survive for long. Nevertheless, it still added to Canavero's confidence for trying it out on humans.
Head Transplant Operation In China
In the new update from Canavero's office, it was made clear that Spiridonov, "who for a long period was considered for being the first transplant patient, will not be the first person whose head will receive a new body."
Georg Kindel, publisher of OOOM said no hard details are available on why Spiridonov has ceased to be a priority.
Kindel, however, reasoned that the location of the head transplant surgery is more important in the choice of the beneficiary.
"Because the head transplant will be conducted in China it's much easier to get a Chinese donor," he said.
Kindel said the change of plan does not mean Spiridonov's case has been dropped. If the transplant becomes successful, it will not be the last and it is only a matter of time he gets a new body.
Why Was China Selected?
Kindel said the operation is likely to be performed by the end of 2017 and the preparations are continuing.
For the head transplant in China, Canavero is collaborating with Xiaoping Ren of China's Harbin Medical University. According to Canavero the head transplant procedure in China is easy as regulatory approvals are more flexible than in Europe.
Expressing confidence on the success of the head transplant operation, the Italian neurosurgeon said a new technique will be used on the Chinese patient, which has been successfully tried on a dog and made it walk for three weeks despite severing the spinal cord.
According to studies, the chemical polyethylene glycol is effective in reconnecting fractured spinal cord.
Plan To Activate Frozen Brains
Articulating a more ambitious plan, Canavero is now thinking of reawakening frozen brains by fixing them into the skulls of others.
In an interview, Canavero revealed that he would try to revive dormant brains frozen in liquid nitrogen at an Arizona cryogenics bank. He claimed he can bring them to life "not in 100 years," but at the most in three years.
According to Canavero, transplanting a brain is better than a head transplant as the former has less rejection rate. Also, there are no issues such as reconnecting and stitching up severed vessels, nerves, tendons and muscles while fusing a new head onto a brain-dead donor body.
However, the "problematic" area of brain transplants is that no aspect of an original external "body remains the same."
Greatest Technical Hurdle
The main technical hurdle for head transplant comes when fusing the donor with the recipient's spinal cord. The challenge is in restoring functions without any brain damage or death.
"Your head is no longer there, your brain is transplanted into an entirely different skull," Canavero said.
However, the idea was slammed by Bioethicist Arthur Caplan who called the proposal of "resurrecting" frozen dead as beyond ridiculous.
"People have their own doubts about whether anything can be salvaged from these frozen heads or bodies because of the damage freezing does," said Caplan, head of ethics at NYU Langone Medical Centre in New York City.