What may sound like an epic sci-fi movie screenplay may in fact be the reality of our 21st century. Because it seems that the first human head transplant in the history of mankind will soon take place, with a scheduled date of December 2017.
Chinese and Italian neuroscientists, Xiao-Ping Ren and Sergio Canavero, seem ahead of the game in suggesting that such a transplant is possible, having carried out over 1,000 similar operations on mice already. And the best part is that a human subject to undergo the surgery has already been found!
30-year-old Valery Spiridonov, a computer scientist from Russia, has stepped up to the challenge. The young man was diagnosed with a genetic muscle-wasting condition called Werdnig-Hoffman disease at early age, and despite knowing the extreme risks of undergoing such a procedure, is so eager for a new, functioning body that he has agreed to go ahead with the transplant procedure.
Speaking publicly about his decision, the young man said:
When I realized that I could participate in something really big and important, I had no doubt left in my mind and started to work in this direction [...] The only thing I feel is the sense of pleasant impatience, like I have been preparing for something important all my life and it is starting to happen.
Watch the fascinating video in which Valery himself discusses the transplant potential in more depth:
How will this procedure be carried out?
Following immense research, the two neuro surgeons intend to perform the procedure in China, expecting it to go on for at least 36 hours and to cost at least $11 million.
During this time, Valery's head and the donor's body will be cooled down to between 53F- 59F so that the cells are able to function longer without vital oxygen. The tissue around the patient's neck and spinal cord will then be cut and fused to the donor body.
But it's not as simple as that! After the operation is completed, Valery will then be induced into a coma for a month to give him "powerful immunosuppressants to prevent the donated body from rejecting his head." If the procedure is successful, the young man should be able to speak in his own voice after he wakes up and should be able to walk within a year.
What are the risks?
The obvious answer to this question is naturally the death of Valery. This is a big risk because nobody has ever attempted a human head transplant before - the chances of his certain survival are not proven and therefore, largely unknown.
And despite claims that both neurologists have transplanted mice heads with success, the rodents never managed to live for long afterwards. Similarly in 1970, Dr. Robert White "successfully" transplant a head on a larger subject, a monkey. However, within eight days the animal passed away because it's spinal chord was not attached to its body.
"It isn't a race!"
Whilst there is much controversy surrounding the legitimacy of such an 'experiment,' the neurosurgeons remain optimistic.
In order to avoid complications, the scientists are working on every single possibility that may go wrong, no matter how long it may take. And Valery seems pretty calm about it all:
According to Canavero’s calculations, if everything goes to plan, two years is the time frame needed to verify all scientific calculations and plan the procedure’s details [...] It isn’t a race. No doubt, the surgery will be done once the doctor and the experts are 99 percent sure of its success.
Well, we can only hope! And who knows, in the future we might be able to transplant our own heads on to better bodies, or perhaps even onto dogs just like in Mars Attacks:
Ah, the wonders of science!