An Italian neuroscientist, Dr. Sergio Canavero, is all set to perform the first-ever human head transplant surgery as early as next year.
A 31-year-old Russian, Valery Spiridonov, who suffers from a rare and fatal genetic condition called Werdnig-Hoffmann disease, has volunteered for the first head transplantation. Canavero, who proposed the plan last year, would be performing the groundbreaking and rather controversial surgery with the help of Chinese surgeon Dr. Xiaoping Ren.
Spiridonov is physically impaired because Werdnig-Hoffmann disease destroys the motor nerves in the brain and spinal cord. The bodily movements of the 31-year-old are limited to typing, feeding himself and controlling his wheelchair with the help of a joystick.
"Removing all the sick parts but the head would do a great job in my case," Spiridonov told the Atlantic magazine. "I couldn't see any other way to treat myself."
The head transplant would begin with the selection of an appropriate brain-dead male donor. With legal consent from the family, the donor would be prepared for the surgery. In the meantime, Spiridonov's body would be cooled to 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Cooling Spiridonov's body would help in preventing the death of the brain cells for about an hour. With just an hour to spare, the heads of both subjects would be cut with the help of a transparent diamond blade. Spiridonov's head would then be transplanted to the donor's body with a custom-made crane.
The 31-year-old's head and the donor's body would be set to fuse with each other using a chemical, polyethylene glycol, known for promoting regrowth of cells. After transplantation, Spiridonov would be kept in a coma for about four weeks for the blood vessels and muscles in the head and body to fuse. New nerve connections in the spinal cord would be established by stimulating the implanted electrodes.
While Canavero is all set for the experimental surgery, the head transplant idea hasn't pleased many researchers and experts. Arthur Caplan, the head of medical ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center, said that head transplantation is scientifically and ethically a rotten idea.
"Despite his [Canavero's] vision, modern cognitive science shows that our cognition is an embodied cognition, in which the body is a real part in the formation of human self," said Anto Cartolovni and Antonio Spagnolo, Italian bioethicists.
The surgery that Canavero expects to be a success by 90 percent would cost about $100 million dollars and require the participation of about 80 surgeons.
Photo: Artur Bergman | Flickr