Italian Doctor Plans World’s First Human Head Transplant with Terminally Ill Russian Volunteer

Apr 9, 2015 at 3:26 pm |

It sounds like something out of Futurama, but the reality of human head transplants is closer than you think. So close, in fact, that one man has already willingly volunteered for the first surgery.

30-year-old Russian computer scientist Valery Spiridonov suffers from a rare form of spinal muscular atrophy called Werdnig-Hoffmann disease. Though he has lived much longer than most people born with his condition, life has been difficult, and the muscle wasting disorder remains fatal.

Stating that “My decision is final and I do not plan to change my mind,” Spiridonov has been in contact with the Italian physician Dr. Sergio Canavero, the man behind the controversial HEAVEN (head anastomosis venture) procedure.

Canavero is in the process of crowdfunding for the procedure, which he plans to present to the American Academy of Neurological and Orthopedic Surgeons this June. The surgery, which the doctor says could take place in 2017, would take 36 hours and require 150 doctors and nurses.

Of course, Spiridonov and Canavero can’t do this alone. They would need the healthy body of a brain dead patient that could be surgically attached to the Russian man’s head. Among the many difficulties facing this operation, which some are calling a Frankenstein experiment, the doctor will have to perfectly fuse the spinal cords and jugulars together. But the danger doesn’t stop there.

Assuming that the procedure goes well, only time would tell if Spiridonov’s head and the donor’s body accept each other. A head transplant was carried out on a monkey in 1970, but the monkey died eight days later due to a poorly-connected spinal cord and the body’s rejection of its new head.

According to some doctors, such a rejection, or the never-before-experienced sensation and chemical reaction of having a new body, could be worse than death itself, driving Spiridonov to insanity or a slow and painful death.

Watch Dr. Canavero explain his theories of head transplants in this Ted Talk:

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Some people are calling this doctor’s attempt to transplant a human head a “Frankenstein experiment.” Can it be done?