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 the first human head transplant surgery to revolutionise medical science”.
Although scary, still, it intrigued and compelled Valery to email Dr.Sergio to volunteer for the first of its kind human head replacement surgery.
Awestruck? I too was 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 will be a bigger achievement than the human landing on the moon.
What Drove Valery Spiridonov to Volunteer for This Death-Dealing Human Head Transplant Surgery?
Valery is suffering from a rare and life-threatening disease: Type 1 Spinal Muscular Atrophy, scientifically termed as Werdnig-Hoffman disease.
It is a genetic disorder caused due to the loss of motor neurones in the spinal cord and the part of the brain connected to it i.e brainstem. This leaves the muscles to get wasted, which the doctors call; muscle atrophy.
A motor neurone is a special type of neurone, which carries signals from brain and spinal cord to the muscles, glands, skin and other outer organs.
In layman terms, if you want to stand up, punch somebody, run, or dance, it is the motor neurone that assists you. Their loss makes the patient 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, which transfers information from the brain to external organs (to help you move hands, lift legs, or walk) and from external organs back to the brain (to help you feel the sensations like external touch or injury).
A hope of a better and normalised life, a chance to de-tag himself from ‘disability’, and an opportunity to add some pleasant years of independent living to his dysfunctional life encouraged him to make his mind up for this.
Valery Spiridonov wants to be a part of a scientific research and after the surgery, he will hopefully be able to achieve this dream.
The Background of the Controversial Doctor Sergio and His Team
Humans are stupid, says Dr Sergio while answering to the question of objection by Italian organizations, the country 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 invited Sergio to perform the surgery in their country, which is scheduled for Dec. 2017.
- Dr Xiaoping Ren, a neurosurgeon at the Harbin Medical University of China, who has vast experience of performing head transplants on 1000s of mice during 2013-14, will be teaming up with Sergio.
- The transplanted mice, after 10 hours surgical procedure, breathe, saw and drank, but survived only 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 possibility of any mishap.
- Along with 80 surgeons and other medical professionals, a total of 150 Medics will mark their participation.
- Estimated cost- 909852603 INR or £ 11m
The Human Head Transplant Protocol
A 36-72 hour surgery to transplant human head, scientifically termed as Cephalosomatic anastomosis, will take its route in the following manner-
- First of all, the patient will be anaesthetized.
- His head and donor’s body will be cooled off to -10° C to keep brain/body cells alive.
- Using 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, severing the spinal cord. The Same procedure will be followed on the brain-dead body donor.
- Then, the Blood vessels will be linked to an array of thin tubes.
- Patient’s head, clamped into a frame, will be moved next to the brain-dead body donor.
- The joining process will commence by linking head and body arteries to restart the blood circulation across the brain.
- Next, 10-20% of the millions of nerves in both the spinal cord ends will be connected- in order to make the patient regain movement. (the trickiest step).
⇒ How will the head and body rejoined-
- Nerve fusion in spinal cords will be stimulated by delivering electric shocks.
- In order to speed up the process, PEG (fatty cell membrane fusing compound) would be flushed in.
- Afterwards will be connected the windpipe, gullet (the oesophagus), muscles, gastrointestinal tract, and other parts.
- Finally, the skin would be stitched by a plastic surgeon.
- The newly transplanted patient would be given an induced coma for about one month- To avoid any movement.
- Immunosuppressant drugs will be given to him to avoid the rejection of body by the head.
- Intense physiotherapy afterwards should enable him to use the body and walk.
Historical, Mythological, and Cinematic Head Transplant Instances
- 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, an 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 by an elephant’s by his father Lord Shiva.
⇒ Cinematic instances of Human Head Transplants
The movie Frankenstein; a wherein hideous creature entirely made with cut off organs and a decapitated head, from the novel by Mary Shelley, picturizes head transplantation.
The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962), Professor Dowell’s Testament (1985) are some of the other movies that follow a similar concept. Totally worth a watch!
⇒ How is it Beneficial?
It is being speculated that the transplanted patient could experience something worse than the death. Nonetheless, his survival would instil a ray of hope in the terminally ill cancer patients, major accident survivors, and in 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 being 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 transplanted part by the recipient’s immune system), paralysis, coma, or an entirely new disease are some of the imaginable consequences. But the reality could be well beyond the imaginable as well.
⇒ The fundamental questions
Although a high-stake procedure and still 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 any news channel.
We can literally create an immortal human with this technology (if successful)- who has a brain that never dies, a soul that never gets liberated. A sheer challenge to the natural laws.
The answer to every curiosity will be out by December 2017. Till then, keep reading keep thinking!