Even the sad tale of the man who got his hands transplanted did not deter this Russian man from volunteering for the first head transplant in the world.
31-year-old Valery Spiridonov runs a software company with the focus on educational software. Spiridonov hails from Vladimir in Russia and has been confined to his wheelchair owing to a genetic disease called Werdnig-Hoffman disease. The deadly disease kills the motor neurones in the brain and spinal cord and weakens the muscles that help in body movements.
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For Spiridonov, a head transplant is his last chance to lead a normal life.
“Removing all the sick parts but the head would do a great job in my case. I couldn’t see any other way to treat myself.”
The Italian neurosurgeon, Dr. Sergio Canavero will perform the head transplant. Dr. Canavero previously made headlines when he performed the head transplant on a monkey and claimed that it remained alive for 20 hours after the operation. The video of the monkey was shown to Sam Kean who reported that:
“[the monkey] blinked when someone prodded his eyes with forceps … but otherwise, he looked catatonic.”
For the head transplant surgery, Dr. Canavero has approached the Chinese doctor Xiaoping Ren, one of the surgeons in the team that performed the first hand transplant surgery. Before the hand-transplant, Dr. Ren practised by switching legs of a pig.
Dr. Canavero plans to apply for a grant of $100 million from the MacArthur Foundation. He also plans to ask tech billionaires including Zuckerberg for the money if his application is rejected by the Foundation. Once the financial hurdles are overcome, the surgeons will search for a brain-dead male whose family is willing to give them the head for the head transplant procedure.
“A custom-made crane would be used to shift Spiridonov’s head – hanging by Velcro straps – onto the donor body’s neck. The two ends of the spinal cord would then be fused together with a chemical called polyethylene glycol, or PEG, which has been shown to promote regrowth of cells that make up the spinal cord. The muscles and blood supply from the donor body would then be joined with Spiridonov’s head, and he would be kept in a coma for three to four weeks to prevent movement as he heals. Implanted electrodes would be used to stimulate the spinal cord to strengthen new nerve connections.”
Apart from the ethical objections, some philosophical questions are also being raised about the proposed head transplant surgery including ‘Would Spiridonov still be himself or would his identity shift into a combination of himself and the donor?’