First Head Transplant Set For Late 2017
Valery Spiridonov, a sufferer of Werdnig-Hoffmann disease, a genetic muscle-wasting disorder, has volunteered to be a part of the world’s first head transplant surgery. Due to his disease, he is confined to a wheelchair with shriveled limbs and is only capable of moving around by using a joystick controller on his chair. The Russian got in contact with Italian neuroscientist Dr. Sergio Canavero who plans to work with Chinese surgeon Dr. Xiaoping Ren. While this is a very controversial surgery in the medical community, the doctors and patient seem eager to see the outcomes. Spiridonov, 30, even claimed that he was growing “impatient” for the procedure.
The surgery will involve two bodies in the operating room: a brain-dead donor body and Valery’s body. Spiridonov’s body will then be cooled to 50 degrees Fahrenheit to delay tissue death for about an hour. Then, the surgeons will need to work quickly to sever both donor and patient’s heads from the spinal cord. Next, a specialized crane will be used to transport the patient’s head over to the donor’s body. The spinal cord will then be fused to Valery’s neck by using polyethylene glycol, which is known to support cell growth. After the procedure, the patient will be left in a coma for three to four weeks to prevent movement while healing. During that time, implanted electrodes would be used to stimulate nerve endings.
This procedure, which has yet to be approved, would require the hands of 80 surgeons and would cost tens of millions of dollars to perform. However, the lead surgeons on the case believe that the chance of success would be “90 percent plus”. If all goes well, the surgery is being planned for December 2017.
Will Valery’s brain accept the donor body? Some patients of transplants in in the past have physically or psychologically rejected the transplants. The only thing the doctors can do to strive for the best outcome is to find a donor with the same blood type as the patient. After that, a physical rejection would often be considered a medical mystery. As for psychological, people have sometimes grown to dislike their transplants. For example, a double arm transplant patient in Boston, Will Lautzenheiser, claims he “considered getting his transplants removed”. This was because of the grueling rehabilitation that he had to undergo after surgery as well as the thought of seeing someone else’s body parts attached to his own. Therefore, it would not be a total surprise if Valery regretted this surgery, yet, for him, it would be different. There would be no option to remove the transplant, since it would be his whole body. Along with other medical risks, this was probably a big factor to consider while consenting to the surgery.
Many eyes from the scientific community will be on Canavero and Ren’s team this coming year. However, many have voiced their disapproval of the procedure. Some claim that performing the surgery would be a “bad science” experiment. Others find the process to be unethical. However, some surgeons are already looking further into the future to wonder what could be next after a successful head transplant.
If all goes well, we may be witnessing the first steps into a new kind of medicine. This would open up opportunities for people who have become paralyzed or have diseases in their bodies. This may also be the key to longer lifespans, so long as the person’s brain is still intact. Whatever happens, many members of the scientific community all over the world will be eagerly awaiting the next update for this momentous event.