An Italian neurosurgeon has presented plans to perform the world’s first human head transplant by the end of 2017.
Neurosurgeon Dr Sergio Canavero announced his plan at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurological and Orthopaedic Surgeons in Maryland on Friday, saying he thinks there is a 90 percent chance of success.
The patient will be 30-year-old Russian Valery Spiridonov, who has the muscle-wasting disease Werdnig-Hoffmann.
“Of course there is a margin of risk, I cannot deny that,” Canavero said.
“I made the announcement only when I was pretty sure I could do it.”
Both men have been in regular contact through video chats and believe the controversial procedure is Spiridonov’s best hope.
“If it goes good, I think I will get rid of the limits which I have today and I will be more independent and this will much improve my life,” Spiridonov said.
“We are making a huge step forward in science and I hope it will be OK.”
Canavero points out that few with Werdnig-Hoffmann disease reach adulthood.
“He is a brave man and he is in horrible condition. You have to understand – for him, Western medicine has nothing to offer. Western medicine has failed.”
Canavero won’t be operating alone and will require the support of his highly skilled peers in order to move forward on the operation which is expected to cost around $15 million.
Cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr Raymond Dieter, former president of the International College Of Surgeons, said one of the biggest concerns with the surgery was keeping the brain alive during the lengthy operation.
“When you think you are doing a heart transplant, or a kidney transplant, or a liver transplant, you have to cool those organs to give you a longer period of surgical time before you reconnect all the vessels and you start reperfusion,” Dieter said.
“We’ve seen several professors criticizing Dr Canavero’s work but you know, there was criticism for the first heart transplant as well and now it’s commonplace.”
The operation will require a team of more than 100 medical workers and will likely take 36 hours to complete, could take place in either the U.S. or China.
Canavero is planning to carry out the procedure in December 2017.
“I prepared myself not only scientifically, but also psychologically which is equally important in order to tackle all of these attacks from several fronts, in order to justify what you want to do, why you want to do, you have to prepare yourself,” Canavero said.
“This is a frontier, the final frontier. It’s not space. This is it because it has implications that go well beyond religion, culture, the future, everything.”
Dr. Canavero is not the only surgeon in the world working on head transplants. Chinese surgeon Xiaoping Ren has completed over 1000 head transplants on mice, which we covered here, and continues to advance the science behind the complicated procedures. Surgeons also recently transplanted an entire face and a fully functioning penis, showing that with modern medicine what was once the domain of science fiction is quickly becoming a reality.