Since the first kidney transplant in 1950s, organ and body transplantation as a medical field has grown dramatically. Today, surgeons are successfully performing heart, kidney, liver, lungs, faces and entire forearms transplantation.
But has medicinal science really grown as powerful as to perform a complex operation such as entire head decapitation and transplantation? The idea seems crazy and absurd; however, Sergio Canavero, a renowned Italian surgeon, believes it is possible. With more than hundred publications and books in surgical literature, Sergio is no novice in this field.
Despite severe criticism by medicinal community, Sergio has already found financial resources and a willing subject for his operation. The project called 'HEAVEN' or Head Anastomosis Venture will cost approximately 13 million dollars and is being funded by multi-billionaires such as Mark Zuckerberg. The volunteer for the first miracle operation scheduled for December 2017 is Valery Spiridonov, a Russian suffering from a severe muscle disease which has destroyed his entire lower body.
How will the operation happen? To put it simply, this landmark operation will consist of a donor and a recipient, both of whose heads will be decapitated simultaneously by two surgeon teams using sharp diamond swivels. The donor will be someone with a dead brain but otherwise healthy body. The recipient's head will be attached onto the donor's body, with trachea, esophagus, jugulars and spinal cord stitched up using a special substance developed by Canadian chemist William Sikkema. The details of the operation have been summarized by Sergio in his article.
Major Challenges Facing Head Transplantation Surgery
Apart from the ethical and practical absurdity, there are numerous surgical and medical challenges facing Sergio's team.
i) Firstly, the time factor is of paramount importance. After head decapitation, Sergio will have approximately one hour to reattach the head onto the new body. Failing to do so may lead to permanent neural damage. The body will be frozen to the temperature of 15-20 C, and at that temperature brain cells can survive for approximately one hour only.
ii) Another challenge lies in attaching the head to the new body and reconnecting the spinal stumps. For this purpose, William Sikkema has developed a waxy substance Texas-PEG, which has reportedly been successful in gluing together a rat's spine. Whether it works on human spine yet needs to be seen.
iii) Provided the operation happens successfully, Sergio so far has no concise plan for post-operation rehab, as nothing like this has ever been performed before. In case the operation does not go well, the patient will lose his life.
iv) There is no guarantee that the patient will retain original consciousness or he’ll adopt the body host's personality.
There are a lot of questions that need to be addressed both medically and ethically before something like this can be performed. However, Sergio is adamant in his pursuit towards what he claims to be a miracle in modern science. The operation is set to happen in December 2017.