In February, Medical News Today reported that an Italian surgeon is to announce updated plans to conduct the world’s first human head transplant within the next 2 years. Now, a 30-year-old Russian man is set to become the first person to undergo the procedure.
The HEAVEN-GEMINI procedure – which is estimated to take 100 surgeons around 36 hours to complete – will involve spinal cord fusion.
At the American Academy of Neurological and Orthopedic Surgeons’ 39th Annual Conference in Annapolis, MD, in June, Dr. Canavero will present updated plans for the project, addressing some of the previously identified challenges that come with it.
Though researchers have seriously questioned the feasibility of Dr. Canavero’s plans, it seems the first human head transplantation is a step closer to becoming a reality; Valery Spiridonov, a 30-year-old computer scientist from Vladimir, Russia, is the first person to volunteer for the procedure.
Spiridonov has Werdnig-Hoffman disease – a rare genetic muscle wasting condition, also referred to as type 1 spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). The condition is caused by the loss of motor neurons in the spinal cord and the brain region connected to the spinal cord. Individuals with the disease are unable to walk and are often unable to sit unaided.
Spiridonov was diagnosed with Werdnig-Hoffman disease at the age of 1 and told MailOnline that he volunteered for HEAVEN-GEMINI because he wants the chance of a new body before he dies.
Donor body will be attached to recipient’s head through spinal cord fusion
Dr. Canavero told CNN he has received an array of emails and letters from people asking to be considered for the procedure, many of which have been from transgender individuals seeking a new body. However, the surgeon says the first people to undergo the procedure will be those with muscle wasting conditions like Spiridonov.
The procedure – which is estimated to take 100 surgeons around 36 hours to complete – will involve spinal cord fusion (SCF). The head from a donor body will be removed using an “ultra-sharp blade” in order to limit the amount of damage the spinal cord sustains.
“The key to SCF is a sharp severance of the cords themselves,” Dr. Canavero explains in a paper published earlier this year, “with its attendant minimal damage to both the axons in the white matter and the neurons in the gray laminae. This is a key point.”
The spinal cord of the donor body will then be fused with the spinal cord of the recipient’s head. Chemicals called polyethylene glycol or chitosan can be used to encourage SCF, according to Dr. Canavero. The muscles and blood supply will then be sutured.
The recipient will be kept in a coma for around 3-4 weeks, says Dr. Canavero, during which time the spinal cord will be subject to electrical stimulation via implanted electrodes in order to boost the new nerve connections.
The surgeon estimates that – with the help of physical therapy – the patient would be able to walk within 1 year.