Valery Spiridonov working on his computer
Valery Spiridonov working on his computer, Source: sputniknews.com

A 31-year-old computer graphic artist, Valery Spiridonov, sitting in his wheelchair casually browsing through the internet finds an unprecedented solution to his incurable motor-neuron disease– “The interview of an Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero who proposed first human head transplant surgery to revolutionise medical science”.

Although scary, yet, it intrigued and compelled Valery to email Dr.Sergio to volunteer for the first of its kind human head replacement surgery.

Awestruck? I was too when I first heard of this, I was like whoattt?? How?

But evolution, progress, curiosity and adventurism are some traits that humanity will never get enough of. If succeeded, it is going to be a bigger achievement than the human landing on the moon.

1. What Drove Valery Spiridonov to Opt for This Death-Dealing Human Head Transplant Surgery?

Valery is suffering from a rare and life-threatening Type 1 Spinal Muscular Atrophy, scientifically termed as Werdnig-Hoffman disease.

Werdnig-Hoffman disease

It is a genetic disorder attributed to the loss of motor neurones in spinal cord and brain part connected to it I.e brainstem, causing the muscle wasting called muscle atrophy.

A motor neurone is a special type of neurone, carries signals from brain and spinal cord to muscles, glands, skin and other outer organs. In layman language, if you want to stand up, punch somebody, run, or dance, motor neurone assists you. And at their loss, the patient gets bed-bound with low life expectancy.

Do you know?
Neurones conduct information across your body at speeds up to 432km/h.

A neurone is a brain cell that transfers information from the brain to external organs (to help you move hands, lift legs, walk) and from external organs to the brain (to feel the sensations like external touch or injury).

Valery Spiridonov in wheelchair

A new hope for a better and a normalised life, an apparent chance to de-tag himself from ‘disability’ and to add some pleasant years of independent living to his dysfunctional life to pursue his dream of being a part of a scientific research helped him make his mind up for this.

 

 

2. An Insight into the Background of the Controversial Doctor Sergio and His Team

Xiaoping Ren and Sergio Canavero: The surgeons’ duo leading the first ever Human Head Transplantation, Source: newsweek.com

Humans are stupid, says Dr Sergio while answering to the question of objection by Italy where he hails from. We have a long history of opposing a groundbreaking idea. But after the success, it is widely accepted, he said.

When you have talent and confidence, you never run out of jobs for yourself. He has researched for 30 years on this procedure. And that’s why China offered Sergio to perform the surgery over there that is scheduled for Dec. 2017.

  • Dr Xiaoping Ren, a neurosurgeon from the Harbin Medical University of China who hashead transplanted mice by dr renexperience performing head transplants in 1000s of mice between 2013-14 will be teaming up with Sergio.
    • The transplanted mice after 10 hours procedure, breathe, saw and drank, but only survived for a few minutes.
    • Currently, Dr Ren is test driving Dr Canavero’s research on mice, monkeys and corpses to rule out even the slightest of the possibility of any mishap (an unlucky event or accident).
  • Along with 80 surgeons and other medical professionals, a total of 150 Medics will have their participation.
  • Estimated cost- 909852603 INR or £ 11m

3. The Human Head Transplant Protocol

A 36-72 hour of surgery, scientifically termed as Cephalosomatic anastomosis will take its route in the following manner-

  1. The patient will first of all be anaesthetized.
  2. His head and donor’s body will be cooled off down to 10° C- to keep brain/body cells alive.
  3. Severed spinal cord graphic represntationUsing a $200,000 diamond microtome blade or a nano knife made up of a thin layer of silicon nitride, his neck will be cleanly cut into between C5-C6 vertebrae, thus severing the spinal cord. The Same will be followed with the brain dead body donor.
  4. Blood vessels will be linked to a thin array of tubes.
  5. Patient’s head clamped into the frame will be moved next to the brain-dead body donor.
  6. At first, head-body arteries will be joined to let the blood recirculate across the brain.
    1. Then, 10-20% of millions of nerves in both the spinal cords will be connected- To regain movement. (the trickiest step).

How?-

  1. Nerve fusion in spinal cords will be stimulated by delivering electric shocks.
  2. In order to speed up the process, PEG (fatty cell membrane fusing compound) will be flushed in.
  3. Afterwards will be connected the windpipe, gullet (the oesophagus), muscles, gastrointestinal tract and other parts.
  1. Finally, the skin would be stitched by a plastic surgeon.
  2. The newly transplanted patient would be given an induced coma for about one month- To avoid any movement.
  3. Immunosuppressant drugs will be given to him to avoid the rejection of body by the head.
  4. Intense physiotherapy afterwards will enable him to use the body and walk.

4. Historical, Mythological and Cinematic Head Tranplant Instances

Previous instances of head transplants/spinal cord fusion in animals and humans

  • dog-head transplantation by Vladimir Demikhov (1959)
    Dog-head transplantation by Vladimir Demikhov (1959)

    In 1959, Surgeon Vladimir Demikhov grafted head and forelimbs of a Russian puppy into the body of another dog.- Survived less than a week. 

  • In 1970, Dr Robert White transferred American rhesus monkey head to a new body.- Survived only for 9 days on life support. Since the spinal cord was not connected, the head rejected the body, as a result, paralysis and death.
  • In 1902, American woman who had her spinal cord severed by gunshot and in another case a skier meeting the same fate had their spinal cords refused.- Only the limited movement could be recovered though.

Mythological instances of head transplants

Hindu mythology suggests that Lord Ganesha’s head was replaced with an elephant’s by his father Lord Shiva.

Cinematic instances of Human Head Transplants

Frankenstein, a hideous creature entirely made out of cut off organs and a decapitated head, from the novel by Mary Shelley, exhibits head and other organs transplantation.
The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962), Professor Dowell’s Testament (1985) are some of the movies that follow the similar concept. Do check them out!

5. Author Speaks!

How is it Beneficial?
It is being speculated that the transplanted patient could experience something worse than the death, but the survival would instil a ray of hope in terminal cancer patients, major accident survivors and in treating birth defects.

Here’s why Valery may not be the first human undergoing the surgery
Since the entire process is being sponsored and conducted in China, it is now the talk of the town that the first patient undergoing this trial surgery may not be Valery.

Has it to do something do with the sponsor? Yes, seems it has. China is insisting the surgery to be done on the patient of their choice or say, it is argued that it must be done on somebody critically on their death bed with a Chinese nationality, Reported by OOOM (media co. handling Canavero’s press)

The potential complications after human head replacement surgery
Anyway, whoever goes under the knife, it is definitely not going to be as easy as unplugging wires from one component and plugging into another. Having been defied the rules of nature, the complications that the reconstructed human can have, both psychologically and physically, are numerous. Or will he even survive? If yes, how long?

Depression, Graft Rejection (rejection of transplant by the recipient’s immune system), paralysis, coma or an entirely new disease to study and research are to name a few because you never know.

The fundamental questions
Although a high-stake (high-risk, dangerous; having the potential for very significant gains or losses) procedure and yet if it succeeds, the especially relevant question then would be-
Are we ready to handle such a human-life changing technology?
Have we evolved to such an extent where we can preserve and use this technology for legitimate, ethical and life-saving purposes only?

“I don’t think so”. I can document my answer with a single line- Go, turn on your TV and switch to a news channel.

We can literally create an immortal human with this technology (if successful)- a brain that never dies, a soul that never gets liberated (set someone/something free). A sheer challenge to natural laws.

The answer to every curiosity will be out by December 2017. Till then, keep reading keep thinking!

Good Luck!

 

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