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All You Need to Know About the World’s First Head Transplant!

All You Need to Know About the World's First Head Transplant!

It is a tad too late for April fool’s jokes, so please rest assured that you have read the title of the blog correctly. Valery Spiridonov from Russia is set to be the world’s first person to undergo a head transplant. The neurosurgeon who intends to perform the procedure is Dr. Sergio Canavero from Italy.

It all started when Dr. Sergio Canavero published a paper in 2013 in the journal ‘Surgical Neurology International’. The paper is titled “HEAVEN: The head anastomosis venture project outline for the first human head transplantation with spinal linkage (GEMINI)”. The abstract of the paper talked about how, in 1970, a head transplant was performed on a monkey, but because there was no technology that existed to reconnect the spinal cord, the monkey could not live long. Dr. Canavero presented modifications and additional technology that could take the experiment to a successful outcome, with a human head transplant.

All You Need to Know About the World's First Head Transplant!

Valery Spiridonov is a 31-year-old Russian programmer who is suffering from Werdnig-Hoffmann disease. Also known as Spinal Mascular Atrophies (SMA), this disease occurs due to the degeneration of nerve cells within the lower region of the brain and certain motor neurons in the spinal cord. This leads to muscle weakness in the body, followed by difficulty in chewing, swallowing and breathing. Valery’s health is declining rapidly and hence he has volunteered his head for this procedure.

Dr. Canavero is a man of no small experience. His research in the subject spans 30 years. His paper explains two parts of the procedure of the human head transplant – HEAVEN and GEMINI. These are abbreviations of medical terms. The first part refers to the head transplant and the second part to the spinal cord transplant. Research is under way at the Harbin Medical University in China to understand the intricacies of the procedure.

Some interesting facts about the transplant:

  • To ensure minimal brain damage to the volunteer, the target time for the procedure to be completed is within one hour.
  • One of the most crucial parts of the procedure, the cutting of the spinal cord, is to be performed using a diamond nano blade, which costs $200,000.
  • According to the Observer, the surgery will require 80 surgeons, 36 hours and $10 million to execute.
  • Once the procedure is over, the volunteer would be kept sedated for 3 days in the ICU with a cervical collar.
  • No donor for the volunteer has yet been found. Screening for a similar height, build and immunotype is being done.
  • The transplant is expected to take place in either the United States or in China before the end of 2017.
  • Dr. Xiaoping Ren of HMU China recently performed a monkey head transplant successfully, using Dr. Canavero’s research methodologies.

So far, accounts of such a head transplant have only been seen in Hindu mythology of Ganesha and Daksha Prajapati, receiving an elephant’s head and a goat’s head, respectively. Marvel comics Arthur Nagan or “Gorilla-Man” is another example in popular culture.

Whether Dr. Canavero’s research would bear fruit and we would read the path-breaking story of a head transplant in our times, only time would tell. All we can do until then is hope for the best and send our well wishes to the brave Mr. Valery Spiridonov and wait!

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