This year in December, they are aiming to undergo the first ever human head transplant (project HEAVEN), which in medical terms is known as cephalosomatic anastomosis, with a 90% chance success rate.
The Italian surgeon hoping to accomplish this is Sergio Canavero, who has even found a volunteer: 31 year old Russian Valery Spiridonov, who has spinal muscular atrophy, causing him to be bound to a wheelchair and limiting basic activities such as eating or even breathing.
The surgeon will have to cut off his head, and then attach it to a healthy body, which would have come from a newly brain-dead person. The whole procedure could take 36-72 hours and will cost around £11 million.
After taking anaesthesia, the patient’s body will be cooled to 10°C; this is stop all bodily functions and to allow cells to last for this long without oxygen.
In order to carry out the procedure, a team of 150, 80 of them surgeons, will severe his head from his spinal cord, between the C5 and C6 vertebrae (which have a key role in neck mobility) using a diamond blade.
The frames clamping the two bodies together will separate, and the heads will be lifted, with Spiridonov’s head literally being deposited on top of the donor’s body.
The first thing that will be joined together are the head-body arteries, so that blood can recirculate the brain again. After that, the windpipe, gullet, spine, gastrointestinal tract and muscles will be reattached – all of which have been successfully operated before, so most of this will be basic surgery knowledge.
He will then fuse the two spinal cords together, using electric shocks and a glue-like substance called polyethylene glycol (which has previously been tested on animals to grow spinal cord nerves). However, only around 10-20% of the nerves will be reconnected, only giving the patient basic movement if the transplant is successful. Another option is to use olfactory ensheathing cells, which enclose the axons (the inner section of a nerve cell that carries the electrical impulse) of olfactory receptor neurons (sensory cells that specialise in smell), supporting the process of neurogenesis and reconstructing synapses.
When the patient’s head has been stitched onto his new body, he’ll be put in a coma for 4 weeks, to allow healing; electrodes will be used throughout, accelerating the regrowth of the dendrons and axons. And then obviously he will be given strong immunosuppressant drugs, to prevent rejection.
If it’s successful, after waking up, he should be able speak with their old voice, and even move.
He’ll have to spend some months in rehab, using a virtual-reality simulator, or hypnosis, so that he gets used to his new unfamiliar body.
However, obviously there’s doubts – puppies, monkeys and rats have all been tested on – and the longest they’ve ever survived is a week. Many say that the surgeon has simplified fusing the spinal cords together – and should be charged with murder if the operation fails.
What do you think about this exciting new development in science? Is it ethical, and do you think it will succeed? Please rate and comment your opinions below!