In December of this year, one of the most iconic moments of human history is set to take place. An Italian neurosurgeon Dr. Sergio Canavero, is going to attempt the world’s first human head transplant, a radical life-threatening operation the world will be following with fascination.
Dr. Sergio Canavero, Director of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group, has reportedly been planning the operation for 30 years, and even found someone who is willing to take the risk.
A 31-year-old Russian computer scientist named Valery Spiridonov, who is a terminally ill, wheelchair bound man, is set to become the recipient of the head transplant. Due to a degenerative muscle-wasting disease, Valery has never walked in his adult life. If successful, the risky procedure would allow him to not only survive, but live a better life.
The operation could take up to 36 hours to complete and should involve over 150 surgeons. The body would come from a brain-dead transplant donor, and involves cooling and maintaining the blood supply around the donor’s body and the recipient’s head. Once cooled, the recipient’s head will slowly be separated from his non-functioning body – which involves cutting the spinal cord – so it can then be attached to the donor’s body. Doctors will have less than 60 minutes to re-attach the head and glue the spinal cord with a substance called polyethylene glycol.
Valery Spiridonov will then have to be kept in a medically-induced coma for a period of three to four weeks, while his spinal cord nerves are stimulated so they start functioning again. Speaking to MailOnline, the patient said:
“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.”
The medical community’s opinion is somewhat divided. While some believe the surgery could be the key to immortality, others believe it can cause the patient to go insane, or even die. Theoretically, every step of the surgery is possible, but a human spinal cord has never been successfully reattached before, according to Matthew Crocker, a consultant neurosurgeon in London.
If the donor’s body rejects the patient’s head, he would wake up from surgery unable to move the donated body. Eventually, he would suffocate as he wouldn’t even be able to breathe.
This has happened 45 years ago, when the first monkey head transplant was performed. Since the body rejected the head, the spinal cord was never connected, which stopped the monkey from being able to breathe on his own
Nevertheless, Dr. Sergio Canavero, along with researchers at Harbin Medical University in China, conducted a similar procedure on a monkey last year – and it was deemed successful. The neurosurgeon connected the monkey’s head without inflicting brain injury. The animal was, however, only kept alive for 20 hours after the procedure, for ethical reasons. Spine fusion technology was also tested in mice and, according to reports, it allowed them to recover motor function as critical nerve fibers regrew after surgery. Check out this video which provides an animation as to how this groundbreaking operation will work:
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