In July 2013, Dr Sergio Canavero at the Italy-based Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group (TANG) revealed his plans to conduct the first human head transplant- – a project named HEAVEN-GEMINI. In June this year the doctor will present updated plans for the project at the American Academy of Neurological and Orthopedic Surgeons’ 39th Annual Conference in Annapolis. His presentation is expected to answer some of the questions surrounding this humungously mind-boggling surgical procedure.
Even as researchers mull the feasibility of Dr Canavero’s surgical venture, it is clear that it will not die for the want of a donor. Valery Spiridonov, a 30-year-old computer scientist from Vladimir, Russia, suffering from a rare genetic muscle-wasting syndrome called the Werdnig-Hoffman disease, has volunteered to donate “because I want the chance of a new body before I die”.
The deficit of motor neurons in the spinal cord and the brain area linked to the cord causes Spiridonov’s affliction, which eventually leads to complete immobilization of its victims. Spiridonov has been living with Werdnig-Hoffman since he was 1. The donor’s body will be attached to the head of the recipient through spinal cord fusion, says Dr Canavero.
If it ever happens, this will be by far the most complex surgical procedure ever undertaken by man and is estimated to take 100 surgeons about 36 hours to complete. It will involve spinal cord fusion (SCF). An “ultra-sharp blade” will be used to remove the head from a donor body to minimize damage to the spinal cord. The spinal cord of the donor body will then be fused with the spinal cord of the recipient’s head.
For 3-4 weeks the recipient will be kept in coma for during which time the spinal cord will be subjected to electrical stimulation via implanted electrodes to boost the new nerve connections. According to the surgeon the patient would be able to walk within 1 year with the help of physical therapy.