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A Human Head Transplant?

You may have heard that recently, an Italian surgeon published an outline of his plan to perform the first full human head transplant surgery. The plan is to perform the operation in 2017, in a procedure that is estimated to take 36 hours, and will require a staff of 150 doctors and nurses.

(Scroll to the bottom to see an interview with the volunteering patient)

The procedure involves cooling down both donor body and patient’s head, then stitch them together and use a special chemical that will cause both ends of the spinal cord to fuse together. The patient will then be kept in a comatose state and his body will be prepared for waking up by electrically stimulating the spinal cord. The procedure is called Head Anastomosis Venture or “HEAVEN” for short. 

Head Transplant

The point of the operation is to give people with degenerated muscles and nerves or cancer-permeated organs a second chance at life. In the 20th-century, such attempts were made using dogs and monkeys, but the recipients did not survive for more than a few days. A recent test using mice was successful, fueling further research that led to the current plans.

Head Transplant

Now, a Russian man by the name Valery Spiridonov has agreed to be the first person to have their head removed and transplanted onto a new host body. 30-year-old Valery is suffering from a genetic disordered called “Werding-Hoffman muscle wasting disease,” which is slowly killing him, and the procedure may be his last chance at life.

Head Transplant

There are those, however, who are not supporting the experimental procedure.  The main problem is severing the spinal cord, which is the brain’s conduit of electrical impulses to the rest of the body. Hunt Batjer of the American Association for Neurological Surgeons told CNN: "I would not wish this on anyone, I would not allow anyone to do it to me, there are a lot of things worse than death." Even if the spinal cord is fused successfully, there is a fear that the new body will overwhelm the brain and not allow it to take full control of the motor functions. Arthur Caplan of New York University warns that "Their bodies would end up being overwhelmed with different pathways and chemistry than they are used to and they'd go crazy, It's not like you can unscrew your head and put it on someone else."

Watch an interview with Valeri, the first man to volunteer for the full body transplant.

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